Over the past five years, an entirely avoidable and predictable policy-driven humanitarian crisis has been unfolding in the Greek islands of Lesvos,
Samos, Chios, Leros, and Kos, with devasting consequences for the people trapped there. After fleeing their homes and surviving harrowing journeys to Europe, the indefinite containment, limbo, and systematic violence in Greece further traumatises people seeking protection. Nearly 10,000 people are currently being held in five Greek islands ‘hotspots’, also known as Reception and Identification Centres (RICs1 ).
The ‘hotspot approach’ has been envisaged as a model of operational support by the EU agencies to the Member States such as Italy and Greece to facilitate the swift identification, registration, and fingerprinting of migrants arriving in Europe. In Greece, this approach is closely intertwined with the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement (also known as the ‘Deal’) and has proven to be a disaster. The Deal signified a tipping point, creating a European border that is fortified and closed; embedding structural violence at the heart of EU migration policies. After the introduction of the Deal, the hotspots quickly transformed into mass containment sites intended to facilitate the fast-track border processing and return of people to Turkey. Thousands of people remain confined in degrading and inhumane conditions as they wait for protection.
As a humanitarian medical organisation providing care on the Greek islands, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been treating the physical and mental wounds these migration policies have inflicted on people for many years. In October 2016 and October 2017, MSF published several reports highlighting the health implications of containment and the significant mental health emergency emerging on the islands.2 Nearly four years on and, astonishingly, rather than address the situation, the EU and its member states intend to intensify and institutionalise its containment and deterrence strategy.
In September 2020, the notorious Moria RIC was burned to the ground in a destructive and symbolic moment. EU leaders promised ‘no more Morias’ while ignoring similar facilities on Samos, Kos, Chios, and Leros. From the ashes of Moria has emerged a new, temporary camp,
Mavrovouni, that replicates many of the worst elements of the Moria hotspot. The Moria RIC is the blueprint for the proposed EU Migration and Asylum Pact screening and asylum regulations announced on 23 September 2020, and the new EU-funded Multi-Purpose Reception and Identification Centres (MPRICs) - one is being built on Samos and may be operational in June 2021. Commonly referred to as ‘closed centres’ by the Greek authorities, MPRICs are designed as more restrictive versions of the current facilities, and reinforce the ability to contain, detain and deport people arriving in Europe.3 In this report, MSF takes stock of five years of providing medical care on the Greek islands. The report’s analysis is based on documentation and medical data from MSF operations on Lesvos,
Samos, and Chios, as well as testimony from patients and MSF staff.
MSF once again calls on European leaders and the Greek government to take accountability, recognise the harm caused and end this deadly and dangerous approach.