Migrants in Detention: Lives on Hold

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Tim Shenk
Press Officer
Direct: 212-763-5764
E-mail: tim.shenk@newyork.msf.org

Migrants in Detention: Lives on Hold

MSF Report Documents Deplorable Living Conditions for Migrants, Asylum Seekers Detained in Greece

ATHENS - Ahead of World Refugee Day on June 20, the international medical
humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans
Frontières (MSF) today released a report documenting the impact of
detention on the wellbeing and mental health of migrants and asylum
seekers in detention centers in Greece. MSF urges Greek authorities to
ensure humane living conditions for detained migrants, and to consider
alternatives to their detention.

MSF’s report, “Migrants in detention: Lives on hold,”
documents the unacceptable living conditions in the three detention
centers of Pagani on Lesvos Island, Filakio in Evros and Venna in
Rodopi,  where MSF provided psychosocial support to detained migrants
from August 2009 to June 2010.

“The report
shows that detention can exacerbate existing symptoms and contribute to
new traumas and psychological distress,” said Ioanna Kotsioni, deputy
head of mission of MSF’s project for migrants in Greece. “Most of the
migrants supported by MSF described detention as a painful and inhumane
experience. Detention was the single most important reason for distress
and anxiety.”

Most of the detainees have fled war-torn or
unstable countries, such as Afghanistan or Iraq, seeking security. They
endure a long and dangerous journey to reach Europe and upon arrival
are arrested and detained in degrading conditions. According to the report,
almost one third of MSF patients mentioned that they experienced or
witnessed violence in their country of origin or that their life was
threatened. MSF psychologists observed symptoms of post-traumatic
stress disorder in 9.5 percent of the patients. During individual
sessions, 39 percent of patients presented symptoms of anxiety, while
31 percent presented symptoms of depression.

The report
also reveals that conditions in the detention centers are below
national and international standards. Inappropriate facilities are
often used and overcrowding is a persistent problem in some detention
centers. Sanitary conditions are usually very poor. Detained migrants
are not allowed to go out of their cells on a regular basis and family
members are separated.  No provisions are in place for vulnerable
groups, such as pregnant women, minors, and people with disabilities.
Migrants and asylum seekers receive inadequate information about their
legal status and the detention system and there are no interpreters
present.

Moreover, migrants systematically complained to MSF
teams that they were receiving insufficient medical care and had
difficulties in communicating with the doctors. Migrants and asylum
seekers detained in all three detention centers often said they were
being treated “like animals”. As one detained migrant told MSF: “How
can I live here? This place is for animals. I am looking at everyone's
faces and I see only death”.

During its interventions in the three detention centers, MSF witnessed
the negative impact of detention on the wellbeing and mental health of
migrants and asylum seekers and raised its concerns with the
authorities, urging them to improve living conditions and seek
alternatives to detention.

MSF urges Greek authorities to carefully measure the impact of
detention on the well being of migrants and asylum seekers and to
consider alternatives, especially for vulnerable groups. The Greek
government’s plan to establish reception/screening centers for new
arrivals is a positive first step and should be implemented. The
government should ensure that conditions and services in these centers
are in accordance with international standards and pay particular
attention to providing appropriate medical and mental health care.
Detained migrants and asylum seekers should be treated in a humane and
dignified manner and those who wish to do so should be given the
possibility to seek asylum.
   
MSF has been providing psychosocial support to migrants and asylum
seekers in three detention centers, Pagani on Lesvos Island, Filakio in
Evros and Venna in Rodopi, since August 2009. MSF teams comprised of
psychologists, social workers and interpreters and regularly visited
the detention centers. Psychosocial support was offered through
individual and group counselling sessions. MSF psychologists saw 305
patients in 381 first and follow-up individual consultations. In
addition, 79 group sessions and 258 play therapy sessions were held.
MSF ceased its activities in the detention centers at the end of May
2010.

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Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international medical humanitarian organization created by doctors and journalists in France in 1971. MSF's work is based on the humanitarian principles of medical ethics and impartiality. The organization is committed to bringing quality medical care to people caught in crisis regardless of race, religion, or political affiliation.
MSF operates independently of any political, military, or religious agendas.

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