A mental health crisis among asylum seekers from the former Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos is worsening. InfoMigrants has learned that in the new tent facility, even young children are receiving psychiatric treatment and medication to deal with ongoing trauma.
In the new Lesbos tent camp, 17-year-old Nour from Syria says that when Moria went up in flames in September, she asked her mother to leave her there to die.
Like a growing number of children and young people in the migrant camps, Nour is taking antidepressants.
Long-term effects on children
In the weeks following the destruction of the Moria camp, almost all of the unaccompanied minors – children traveling without a parent or guardian – were transferred off the island. But many children were also left on Lesbos, as well as the other hotspot islands.
And according to Greg Kavarnos, a psychologist with the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) working with asylum seekers on Lesbos, children are among those most at risk of suffering long-term mental health effects.
"Children are resilient and can bounce back, but they are also at a stage when they’re developing their character and their personality," Kavarnos told InfoMigrants.
“If they have to go through traumatic experiences at this age, these will then shape their personality or their character in the future, leading to long-term problems.”
“We’re creating a generation of children that are going to be reliant on psychiatric medication for the rest of their lives.”
Children in the camp are increasingly feeling a sense of resignation. Seeing their parents trapped and unable to make decisions or take action, they become hopeless, Kavarnos said.
“If at eight years old a child has already resigned itself, what does that mean when this child becomes 12 or 16 years old? If at eight years old or 10 years old a child has to take psychiatric medication in order for the symptoms to be held at bay, what’s this going to mean later?”
When a psychiatric problem arises as a result of trauma, if the trauma is not successfully dealt with, the psychiatric problem then becomes chronic, according to Kavarnos.
“So, what are we doing? We’re creating a generation of children that are going to be reliant on psychiatric medication for the rest of their lives.”
‘We all have mental problems because of Lesbos’
Karima, from Afghanistan, is also on antidepressants and has trouble sleeping. Most of her family, including her granddaughters, aged two and three, were in a boat from Turkey that sank in the Aegean. They were rescued and brought to Lesbos. For about two years, they lived in the Moria camp.
Karima’s son; Rahullah tells us: “It was a very bad situation. ... People died, they drank, they killed each other. We didn’t sleep. So now we have mental problems, all of us, just because of Lesbos.”
Rahullah's sister F., the mother of the two little girls, became so unwell that she cut herself, says another of her brothers, a softly-spoken law graduate. F.'s husband was murdered in Afghanistan.
Another young asylum seeker in the camp, Ahmad*, is 25. He travelled alone from Afghanistan to Greece. He says that he has twice attempted suicide, and if it hadn’t been for his friends, he would have gone through with it and succeeded in killing himself.
Removal the only solution
The International Rescue Committee, which provides mental health support to asylum seekers on Lesbos, tries to help migrants with counseling and medication. But according to IRC senior advocacy officer Martha Roussou, while some people do improve, “the only durable solution is to remove them from the traumatic space they are living in.”
No matter how much medication or psychotherapy you give a person, “if they’re constantly being traumatized by their experiences, you’re always one step behind," said Greg Kavarnos.
“I can’t do anything for the ongoing trauma, the threats of violence, the inability to access simple facilities. I can’t say to the person, ‘it’s okay, things will get better,’ because I don’t know if things will get better for them.”
*Ahmad is an assumed name
If you are suffering from serious emotional strain or suicidal thoughts, do not hesitate to seek professional help. You can find information on where to find such help, no matter where you live in the world, at this website: https://www.befrienders.org/
In Greece, a suicide-help line can be reached by telephone at this number: 1018. You can also find more information here: http://suicide-help.gr/