MSF expresses its grave concern at the continued deterioration of the situation of migrants and refugees on the island of Lesvos, where there are numerous and varied allegations/reports of exposure to violence, including reports of alleged abductions and alleged refoulements, detention and deprivation food and shelter.
MSF is calling on the Greek authorities to investigate reports of hundreds of missing migrants – allegedly forcibly pushed out to sea – and to ensure safe and decent reception conditions for those who remain on the island.
Missing person reports
MSF teams working on Lesbos are notified by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other agencies when migrants arrive on Lesvos and require urgent medical care.
“Since June 2022, when MSF started providing emergency medical assistance to people arriving by boat on Lesbos, we have not been able to locate approximately 940 people who were never found in the reported place,” said Achilleas Tzemos, General Director of the Greek section of Doctors Without Borders.
Several patients have reported to MSF staff that they were forcibly pushed back to sea in previous attempts to reach Greece.
“When we are alerted to new arrivals in need of urgent medical assistance, we spend hours – sometimes days – looking for them, as they are often hiding in forests,” noted Achilleas Tzemos.
People identified by our teams have reported encountering men posing as doctors to gain their trust, or as recently reported in the New York Times article even impersonating Doctors Without Borders. “If this is confirmed, this is an unacceptable manipulation of humanitarian aid.”
In some cases, MSF encountered vehicles without number plates, often driven by people wearing black hoods, around the areas where they intervened.
Humanitarian aid to new arrivals has shrunk significantly due to fear of criminalisation. Doctors Without Borders is now the only independent agency providing assistance to migrants arriving on Lesbos.
Harsh deterrence tactics in Greece’s largest structure
Migrants and asylum seekers arriving on Lesbos are transferred to two facilities depending on their place of arrival: Mavrovouni and Megala Therma. In Montenegro, one of several EU-funded closed controlled structures has accommodated up to 2,700 people in 2023. The closed controlled structures were presented as improving the living conditions of immigrants, but they were actually designed to significantly restrict the movement of people who are kept confined in prison-like facilities.
On 17 May 2023, Greek authorities stopped providing food to recognized refugees and people who have had their application for international protection rejected, announcing plans to remove them. In addition, children from families whose application for international protection has been rejected are deprived of their social security numbers, which deprives them of the right to basic vaccinations, thereby violating their rights.
“The result of all this is that tensions have increased in the closed controlled structure,” states Achilleas Tzemos. “Patients complain of the humiliation of standing for hours in line and their frustration with the food restriction. The authorities are using food as leverage to force people to leave the structure.”
MSF condemns the use of these practices to force people out of the structure. “The deprivation of basic rights for hundreds of people, such as access to food and shelter without alternative solutions, can have serious consequences on their physical and mental health,” emphasizes Achilleas Tzemos.
Arbitrary reservation at Megala Therma
At the structure in Megala Therma, on the northern coast of Lesvos, where MSF has been providing health care since 2020, the situation is alarming. It was a former quarantine center for COVID-19, and now the structure houses new arrivals before they are transferred to Montenegro.
People in Megala Therma are not registered and are essentially being held arbitrarily for days, in some cases for more than two weeks, before being transferred to the Montenegrin facility.
The living conditions in Megala Therma are miserable. People are staying in temporary accommodation that has no beds – sometimes 14 people are crammed into a five-person accommodation. “Everyone, including children, is housed together, regardless of their vulnerability, without regard to safety and security procedures.”
The structure is also isolated, making it extremely difficult for medical personnel to access it to respond to medical emergencies. “The MSF medical team visits this facility twice a week, but if medical emergencies occur on any other day, no one is on site to respond and the ambulance will take over an hour to reach the patient.
“Megala Therma is an emblematic example of the harsh and dysfunctional approach applied to the closed controlled structures supported by EU Member States and funded by the European Commission. Médecins Sans Frontières has repeatedly criticized and denounced these harsh policies” emphasizes the Director General of Médecins Sans Frontières.
Doctors Without Borders calls on the Greek authorities and the European Commission:
– Immediately investigate reports of threats, abductions and ill-treatment of people by unknown masked men, who allegedly systematically engage in pushbacks and endanger people’s lives on land and at sea.
– End the arbitrary detention of unregistered new arrivals in Megala Therma, ensuring their immediate access to registration and identification procedures, decent reception conditions and proximity to basic services.
– To ensure quality and timely medical care in the special reception structures. People’s legal status should not lead to their exclusion from basic services such as food, shelter and health care. Access to health care, protection and humanitarian assistance must be provided to all new arrivals seeking protection in Greece, based on EU directives.
Tags: Refoulements arbitrary detention violence migrants Lesvos-