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End systematic and prolonged detention of migrants, says MSF

Médecins Sans Frontières holds EU co-responsible for harm inflicted on migrants and asylum seekers in Greek detention centres

European Union must stop turning a blind eye to the unacceptable practice of prolonged and systematic detention of migrants and asylum seekers in Greece, leading international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières says

Komotini detention centre (Photo: MSF) Komotini detention centre (Photo: MSF) The prolonged and systematic detention of migrants and asylum seekers in Greece is having devastating consequences on their health and human dignity, a leading international medical humanitarian organisation has said.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said given that Greece currently holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU), the European Union must stop turning a blind eye to these unacceptable practices in view of their serious medical and humanitarian consequences.

In a report, entitled Invisible Suffering, released at a press conference in Athens on Tuesday, the organisation, which has been providing independent medical and psychosocial care in Greek detention centres since 2008, highlights the massive impact of detention on the physical and mental health of migrants.

The report also points out the gaps in healthcare provision and the absence of medical assessments, which lead to detainees with serious medical conditions being neglected or even being forced to interrupt their treatment.

Conditions at Komotini detention centre (Photo: MSF) Conditions at Komotini detention centre (Photo: MSF) "Over a period of six years, we have carried out more than 9,900 medical consultations inside detention centres and police stations where migrants and asylum seekers are held," says Dr Apostolos Veizis, MSF's head of mission in Greece.

"But despite our repeated calls for improvements to detention conditions and migrants' access to healthcare, we have seen little change, while the overall situation continues to deteriorate."

Migrants and asylum seekers are also being held in police stations, where conditions are even more deplorable, and where detainees are not allowed outdoors for months at a time – in some cases for up to 17 months

MSF points out that since police launched Operation Xenios Zeus in 2012, the number of irregular migrants and asylum seekers held in administrative detention has skyrocketed.

At the same time, the capacity of detention facilities has grown by 4,500 places with the addition of five preremoval centres, while detention is being applied systematically for the maximum period of 18 months. Meanwhile, sanitary conditions and the provision of basic services remain largely unacceptable.

Even particularly vulnerable groups – such as minors, victims of torture and people with chronic diseases or disabilities– are subjected to prolonged detention. Migrants and asylum seekers are also being held in police stations, where conditions are even more deplorable, and where detainees are not allowed outdoors for months at a time – in some cases for up to 17 months.

"Please help us. I don't think detention solves any problems. How would you feel if you were in my position? If I became you and you became me, what would you do?"
the report quotes a 16-year-old boy, six months into his detention.

Medical effects

In places of detention, overcrowding, inadequate heating, insufficient hot water, poor ventilation, a lack of access to the outdoors and a poor diet contribute to the emergence and spread of respiratory, gastrointestinal, dermatological and musculoskeletal diseases among detainees. Detention is also detrimental to their mental health: symptoms of anxiety, depression and psychosomatic manifestations are observed in many, while it is not uncommon for desperate migrants to go on hunger strike, to self-harm and even to attempt suicide.

A cell at Iasmos detention centre (Photo: MSF) A cell at Iasmos detention centre (Photo: MSF) After the Greek authorities finally committed to providing medical services in detention centres for migrants, MSF said it will close its medical activities in immigration detention facilities in northern Greece this week and is urging the authorities to fulfil this commitment and guarantee uninterrupted and extended access to healthcare for detained migrants and asylum seekers.

"Other EU member states and European institutions cannot continue to shirk their share of responsibility," says Ioanna Kotsioni, MSF's advisor on migration. "With first-entry countries for irregular migrants coming under increased pressure to restrict migration flows into the EU by using detention as a deterrence measure, they cannot be held solely accountable for the harm inflicted on migrants and asylum seekers. It is a common responsibility and a shared shame."

MSF calls on the Greek government and the EU to put an end to the indiscriminate, systematic and prolonged detention of migrants and asylum seekers; stop detention in inappropriate facilities; cease to detain vulnerable people such as minors, victims of torture and chronically ill patients; and to invest in a reception system adapted to the physical, medical and humanitarian needs of migrants and asylum seekers.

Since 2004, MSF has been providing medical and humanitarian assistance to migrants held in administrative detention facilities across Europe – in Greece, Malta and Italy. In Greece, MSF has been responding (using only private funding) since 2008 to the urgent medical and humanitarian needs of newly arrived migrants, as well as to asylum seekers and migrants in administrative detention. During 2013 and 2014, MSF worked in six immigration detention facilities in northern Greece, and made assessment visits to 27 regular and border police stations, coastguard facilities and pre-removal centres across Greece.

During 2013-14, MSF teams carried out 5,441 medical consultations, made 365 referrals to secondary health facilities and made 100 referrals for dental care. Teams provided scabies treatment to more than 1,500 migrants. Twenty-two migrants were released on medical grounds as a result of MSF's intervention. MSF teams also distributed relief items to detained migrants, including 6,662 personal hygiene kits and 1,648 sets of clothes, shoes and sleeping bags.


Testimonies

"Komotini detention center is not a good place even for animals. It is very dirty. The toilets are not working. There are no doors in the toilets. The piping system is broken. Excrement is falling from the toilets of the first floor to the ground floor. People are locked up inside almost all day. We were allowed in the yard one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. And not always everyday. Komotini is not a detention centre; it is a stable for animals… And now in this police station I have not seen the sun in 3 months. I am also worried about my asylum application. It is already 3 months that I have been waiting for the interview." Man, 28 years old, 7 months in detention

"If my mother knew about my situation she would die from sorrow. The way we live here is not like a detention center for immigrants. Even prison is better than here. Everything seems so difficult to me. Everything is difficult. It is so dirty. It smells like a pigsty. You went in and saw. You are witnesses. If there is justice, someone should assert our rights ... To tell you the truth the way they are treating us is very cruel. I had a severe toothache and I was asking for a doctor for several weeks. Eventually I was taken to the hospital after I had pull out the tooth that was aching myself, and I was bleeding. Now I' am starting to have psychological issues. After such a long time here we are not well anymore. We have lost our hope. I am beginning to have insomnia. I was 72kg now I have reach 64kg. I cannot express in words the situation in which we are in." Man, 34 years old, 17 months in detention

 

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