Joanne Liu, MSF International President

Interview, 28/9/2015
1. What did you see in Lesbos and Idomeni regarding the refugees and their living conditions?
I find it disgraceful that in the 21st century, in a European country, the basic human and decent reception conditions and not met. There is right now no more food distributions in Lesbos and insufficient shelter options for the people arriving. On an island like Kos, there is not a single place where the people can find shelter, food and access toilets and showers. The one place that used to exist and where Médecins Sans Frontières was working: the Captain Elias Camp was shut down over two weeks ago. These living conditions have a clear impact on the health of our patients.
Beyond the living conditions in the islands, what is striking is the distress and vulnerability that I saw in the refugees and migrants I met. The relief and exuberance they feel when they arrive, after surviving the boat trip from Turkey, is short-lived and quickly gives way to anxiety. The Greek islands are for them only the beginning of a long journey into the unknown, across many different countries. A journey which I would describe as the heart of darkness: they don’t know what will happen, they’re constantly on their guard, like trapped animals in a maze.

2. Which are the responsibilities of the Greek authorities and what responsibilities do you believe that the European Union has for this situation?
It’s a disgrace today for us to have to beg for a minimum of decency to be shown to the migrants and refugees arriving in the Greek islands. Minimum decency is a right and there are reception standards in the European Union that member states should observe. I’m deeply outraged by what I’ve seen. It’s completely unacceptable that people have to sleep on the ground in Lesbos, in Kos, in Leros to just name a few, that they have no access to food and no access to toilets there.   
I would also like to add that everybody has a right to hope for and dream of a brighter future. We can not take that from people. States can not treat people who are fleeing from countries where there are wars like criminals and perceive them as threats.
4. You met many refugees during your visit to Lesvos and Idomeni. Which was the most moving story that they shared with you?
One conversation that I am – among many others – going to take back with me, is a Syrian family trying to explain to me why they had left their home country in Lesbos and saying: “every day in Syria we die”.
5. What is your personal vision and target about MSF’s mission regarding the refugees?
Today, the priority is to ensure that the basic needs of the people are met (meaning shelter, food and basic hygiene with toilets and showers) for their dignity. The EU, the Greek state and the UNHCR have to take their responsibilities and basic and humane reception needs to be organized now on all Greek islands.

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