Undocumented migrants in Greece are excluded from the national health system, except for emergency hospital visits | Photo: picture alliance
Undocumented migrants in Greece are excluded from the national health system, except for emergency hospital visits | Photo: picture alliance

Getting by as a migrant without papers is hard – but if you become sick, it can be much worse, even life-threatening. Where can you turn for medical care in Greece?

The economic crisis in Greece that started around 2008 took a huge toll on healthcare and social security systems. In the years that followed, millions of people in the country had limited or no access to health care. There were some improvements after a new law (4368/2016) was introduced by the left-wing government in 2016, but in general, uninsured people are still only covered under the Greek national health system in cases of emergency. Undocumented migrants are guaranteed to be admitted to hospital and treated in an emergency for free and without fear of being reported to authorities.

If you are in Greece without permission to reside, you do not officially have access to public healthcare services in non-emergency situations, such as hospital outpatient clinics, diagnostic tests, X-rays, medication or general medical checkups. However, there are several non-government organizations providing these services for undocumented migrants. Here are a few services where you can seek help:

Solidarity Clinics (KIFA)

After 2009, a grassroots movement of so-called “solidarity clinics”, also known as KIFA , emerged. Today, these clinics and pharmacies continue to offer medical care to refugees and migrants without documents.

The solidarity clinics operate throughout Greece and are funded by NGOs and private donations. They offer free treatment and medicines to undocumented migrants as well as to people who have insurance but still cannot afford medication (which is only partly covered by the National Health Service) or have to wait too long for treatment in the NHS.

Open Polyclinics

Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World) runs medical clinics called "Open Polyclinics" which are like the Solidarity Clinics. They offer primary healthcare, psychosocial counseling and free medication to anyone with limited or no access to the NHS, including undocumented migrants. Until now, there were six Polyclinics, in Athens, Piraeus, Thessaloniki, Patras, Chania and Kavala. However, reorganization is underway which will probably result in reduced coverage. According to Sotiris Papakonstantinou, a doctor and Medical Coordinator with MDM, services could be limited in future to the Athens and Thessaloniki areas.

The polyclinics are staffed mainly by volunteer doctors and services include: Pediatrics; surgery; gynecology; dermatology; cardiology; ophthalmology; orthopedic surgery; radiology; pulmonology; Ear, Nose and Throat; psychiatry; neurology.

Psychological support is also available at the Polyclinics, including specialized services for children and adolescents with developmental disabilities and learning difficulties.

Migrants attending the Polyclinics come with a wide range of health issues, depending on how long they have been in Greece, according to Papakonstantinou. Some have the same chronic conditions suffered by the wider population such as diabetes and heart problems, and may have been attending the clinic for a number of years.

Most people who come to the Polyclinics are suffering from depression and anxiety linked to difficult living conditions, such as unemployment, financial problems, or unstable family situations. Many also have post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of experiencing racist violence, torture or kidnapping. These people may be referred to a psychiatrist and receive appropriate drug treatment at no cost.

PRAKSIS

Praksis, an NGO, runs polyclinics in Athens and Thessaloniki for those without free access to the public healthcare system. They are staffed by general practitioners, pediatricians, gynecologists and obstetricians, dentists, dermatologists, and ophthalmologists. Praksis polyclinics also provide free medicines. Vaccination is also available.

Lack of funds

Non-government organizations offering medical treatment and medicines to undocumented migrants in Greece complain that they are unable to provide the level and extent of care needed because of a shortage of funds. The reduced scope of the Open Polyclinics run by MDM is partly the result of a loss of funding from the EU’s humanitarian aid budget, according to Papakonstantinou.

Useful contacts

Athens
Athens Solidarity Center, 2 Domokou st., (opposite Athens Railway Station, 2nd floor), Monday-Friday 9:00-19:00, Tel. 210 822 0883
Open Polyclinic of Medecins du Monde, 12 Sapfous st., Tel. 210 3213150

Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki Solidarity Center, 29A Ptolemaion st., Monday-Friday 9:00-17:00, Tel. 2310 501030, 2310 501040
Open Polyclinic of Medecins du Monde (same address as Thessaloniki Solidarity Center, above), Tel. 2310 566641
 

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