Mental Health Situation Deteriorating For Refugees On Greece's Lesbos Island

Self-harm and suicide attempts are common, doctors said.

As refugees keep flocking to the shores of Greek islands, the availability of resources to care for them continues to plummet. The result is a dire medical and mental health crisis for those stuck on Lesbos, according to a Doctors Without Borders report published Monday.

The needs of people seeking refuge continue to grow, the group’s staffers said, while the number of personnel capable of treating them over a sustained period has been drastically reduced. 

Doctors Without Borders ―also known as MSF for its French name ― runs one of the only two medical clinics on the island, according to the report, after another one closed its operations in May. Meanwhile, more than 3,500 refugees have arrived on Lesbos in 2017 out of about 10,000 in total across Greece, according to the UN Refugee Agency. The influx brings the total number of refugees living on the island to about  5,000.

The report said that 80 percent of the Lesbos refugees who received mental health assessments “met our criteria of severity to be taken into our care.” Two-thirds of mental health patients were victims of violence before arriving on the island, and one-fifth were victims of torture, according to the report. About half of the women who visited the MSF clinic for gynecological check-ups were victims sexual violence.

The trauma that people experienced both in their home countries and during their flight is exacerbated by their sub-par living conditions on Lesbos and the anxiety associated with the limbo of asylum, Declan Barry, MSF’s medical coordinator for Lesbos, told HuffPost. 

Most of the patients seeking medical assistance in the clinic are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, he said, and many are regularly self-harming and attempting suicide. 

“When you think of a patient who’s been traumatized, they need a safe space to address that. The opposite is happening,” he said.

When you think of a patient who’s been traumatized, they need a safe space to address that. The opposite is happening.

“Our clinic is very small but we have a waiting list of up to 100 patients trying to access it,” Barry added. “We can only see cases that are very severe but also there are people stuck on the island for a very long time who can’t get their needs met. At the moment all we can offer is [preventing] people [from feeling] like killing themselves every other day. It’s a terrifying situation.”

He said he’s never seen a mental health situation so dire in his years of field work.

About one-third of the refugees who have come to Greece so far this year hail from Syria. Other countries heavily represented its refugee population include Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Afghanistan.

The European Union struck a deal with Turkey in March of 2016 to stem the flow of people reaching the shores of Greece and other nearby countries via Turkey. Part of the accord called for resettlement of refugees stuck in Greece to other E.U.-member states. The goal was to resettle 120,000 people between March 2016 and fall of 2017. Only about 24,000 had been resettled as of Wednesday.

Thousands still languish in Greece, both on the mainland and across several islands, as they await processing of asylum claims. About 51,000 people applied for asylum in Greece last year, according to government statistics. About 70 percent of the applications were rejected.




Snapshots From A Refugee Rescue Mission In The Mediterranean