Patients in the waiting area outside the MSF mobile clinic in the Closed Control Access Center in Zervou, Samos, Greece | Photo: MSF/Evgenia Chorou
Patients in the waiting area outside the MSF mobile clinic in the Closed Control Access Center in Zervou, Samos, Greece | Photo: MSF/Evgenia Chorou

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has denounced the conditions at closed hosting centers for asylum seekers on the Greek islands, in particular Samos. They believe there is not enough medical staff, and that the "prison-like" camps can "exacerbate psychological trauma" suffered by refugees and migrants.

At the Closed Control Access Center (CCAC) in Zervou on the Greek island of Samos, asylum seekers face severe hurdles to receiving adequate medical and psychological care, and lack access to legal advice, medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders said in a statement published on November 30.

"The authorities should guarantee dignified and secure shelter conditions. People need a safe, humane environment that provides a form of solidarity for migrants to present their asylum requests without being at risk of suffering additional trauma, as foreseen by international, European and national law," said Nicholas Papachrysostomou, head of mission for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Greece.

MSF Greece, "the centers are similar to prisons"

"The Zerzou center, similarly to the other CCAC centers of Leros and Kos and two additional ones that will open on Lesbos and Chios in 2023, are the result of an aggressive policy of containment financed by the EU. These are places where people who are seeking safety are placed while they wait for their request to be examined. The persons who arrive to Greece, most of them fleeing conflicts and persecutions in their country of origin -- many have suffered terrible violence during the journey, are welcomed on Greek isles with barbed wire, x-rays and biometric identification", denounced MSF in the press release they published last week.

"The people in the Zervou center recount of how they survived trafficking, sexual aggression, forced labor and mistreatment", said Papachrysostomou. "Some of them have seen their family members die during forced repatriations or due to shipwrecks. The centers, similar to prisons, are unable to provide them with basic care for their needs and therefore cause them physical and mental damage which could be avoided."

MSF pointed out that only CCAC residents who are possession of an identity card for asylum requests can enter and exit the Zervou center, but obtaining it can take up to 25 days or even longer. The NGO believes that all newly arrived migrants are therefore, effectively, being detained, without freedom of movement. In their statement, MSF acknowledged that the center's management allows persons without the card to exit for medical or legal appointments -- but the organization argued that this situation could change any moment.

The lack of adequate health assistance

Sonia Balleron, coordinator for the MFS project on the isle of Samos, said: "The first obvious deficiency at these centers is the lack of access provided to health care staff. We must take into consideration the fact that these people take on similar long journeys without receiving medical attention for a long time."

According to MSF, since Februrary 2022, doctors have only occasionally visited the center for a limited number of hours. Supplies and doctors are limited. To guarantee an adequate basic medical support to persons since April 2022, MSF manages a mobile clinic which goes to the Zerzou center three times per week.

Until recently, those who arrived at the CCAC in Samos were transferred to an isolated area for a preventive COVID-19 quarantine, without having access to medical care and generating the worsening of the health conditions, according to MSF.

In November, the preventive isolation at the Zervou center was revoked by authorities.

The impact on mental health

Between September 2021 and September 2022, 40% of mental health patients at MSF in Samos presented symptoms related to psychological trauma, the organization said.

Over the course of the last year, the NGO said that it registered high levels of psychological suffering among people at the center in Zervou and that request for access to mental health attention had been high in numbers and constant.

"At this time everyone is living through psychological conditions", states Elise Loyens, responsible for medical coordination at MSF in Greece. "They present the same recurring symptoms: body aches, disassociation, depression, sleep problems. People feel humiliated due to the conditions they are obliged to live in."

A patient of MSFreportedly described the Zerzou center as "mental punishment" and said that he rarely exits his room to avoid finding the barbed wire and the police.

Rapid asylum procedures without legal assistance

Often in Samos and Lesbos, persons have their first interview right after the quarantine "with too little time to recuperate from their journey, no chance of understanding the procedure for the asylum request and the need to request legal assistance or to prepare for the interview", MSF argued.

MSF also said that some of the center residents who survived torture were not identified by authorities as having suffered this abuse and were therefore not given the information on their right to receive adequate medical and psycho-social support. MSF also claimed that torture survivors were often going into asylum proceedings without legal assistance, leading to their requests being rejected.


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