Athens, Brussels, 25th May – The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) expresses its serious concerns on the continuous deterioration of the situation of migrants and refugees on the Greek Island of Lesbos, where there have been numerous and various allegations/reports of exposure to violence, such as alleged abductions and alleged pushbacks, detention and deprivation of food and shelter. MSF calls on Greek authorities to investigate reports of hundreds of missing migrants—assumed to be forcibly pushed back to sea—and to implement safe and dignified reception conditions for those who remain on the island.
Reports of missing people
MSF teams working on Lesbos are alerted by UNHCR—the United Nations refugee agency—and other actors when migrants arrive on Lesbos and need urgent medical treatment.
Several patients have told MSF staff about being traumatically intercepted and forcibly pushed back to sea on previous attempts to reach Greece. “When we are alerted of newly arrived people in urgent need of medical assistance, we spend hours—sometimes days—looking for them as they are often hiding in forests,” said Osman.
In some instances, MSF has encountered in the surrounding of the locations of interventions unidentifiable vehicles without plates, often driven by individuals with black covers on their faces.
Cruel deterrence tactics in the biggest camp in Greece
Migrants and asylum seekers arriving on Lesbos are sent to two centers according to the location of arrival: Mavrovouni and Megala Therma. In Mavrovouni, one of the several EU Funded Closed Controlled Access Centers (CCAC), up to 2,700 people have been accommodated in 2023. CCACs were marketed as an improvement in living conditions for migrants but were designed to severely restrict people’s movement and keep them contained in prison-like facilities. On May 17, Greek authorities stopped providing food to recognized refugees and people who are denied international protection, announcing plans to evict them. Furthermore, children belonging to families that were denied international protection are stripped of their social security numbers making them ineligible to receive basic vaccinations, violating their rights.
“Tensions have risen in the CCAC as a result,” said Osman.
MSF condemns the use of deprivation to force people out of the facility.
Arbitrary detention in Megala Therma camp
In Megala Therma, on the northern coast of Lesbos, where MSF has been providing healthcare since 2020, the situation is alarming. Formerly a government COVID-19 quarantine center, the facility now houses migrants before they are transferred to the Mavrovouni CCAC.
People in Megala Therma are not registered and essentially are arbitrarily detained for days, in some cases for more than two weeks, before being transferred to the CCAC of Mavrovouni.
Living conditions in Megala Therma are dire. People are put into overcrowded Refugee Housing Units that have no beds—sometimes 14 people are squeezed into a unit with space for five.
The facility is also isolated, making it considerably difficult for medical actors to access the facility to respond to medical emergencies. “MSF doctors visit twice a week, but if medical emergencies occur on any other day, no one is on site to respond and it would take an ambulance more than an hour to reach the patient,” said Osman.
MSF calls on the Greek authorities and the European Commission:
- For an immediate investigation into allegations of people being threatened, abducted, and ill-treated by unidentified masked people who are systematically engaging in pushbacks and endangering people’s lives on land and at sea.
- To end the arbitrary detention of unregistered new arrivals in Megala Therma, ensuring their prompt access to registration and identification, dignified reception conditions and proximity to basic services.
- To ensure quality, timely medical care, including emergency medical care in the dedicated reception facilities. People’s legal status must not lead to the exclusion of people from crucial vital services such as food, shelter and healthcare. Access to healthcare, protection and humanitarian assistance needs to be granted to all new arrivals seeking protection in Greece, in line with EU reception directive.