Close to 2,000 asylum seekers will be moved from Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos to the mainland where their asylum claims will be examined, said Greek authorities.
“The situation in Moria is indeed difficult, it is indeed at the limit,” said government spokesman, Dimitris Tzanakopoulos on Tuesday.
With over 9,000 people housed at the camp, which has a capacity of just over 3,000, overcrowding has been cited as the main reason for the decision.
Coincidentally, the announcement comes just days after Doctors without Borders (MSF) revealed the alarming number of children at the camp who are either self-harming or attempting suicide.
Between February and June 2018, MSF staff reported that they had witnessed almost a quarter of refugees between the ages of 6 and 18 either attempt to hurt or kill themselves.
Meanwhile panic attacks, anxiety, and constant nightmares are common experiences amongst others, while some cannot even speak.
On Monday MSF clinical psychiatrist, Alessandro Barberio penned an open letter published on MSF’s website, in which he reveals the conditions he has witnessed in his time on Lesvos.
“In all of my years of medical practice, I have never witnessed such overwhelming numbers of people suffering from serious mental health conditions as I am witnessing now amongst refugees on the island of Lesvos. The vast majority of people I see are presenting with psychotic symptoms, suicidal thoughts—even attempts at suicide—and are confused,” wrote Barberio.
The psychiatrist claimed that the asylum seekers are forced to live in a context promoting frequent violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, affecting both children and adults, which Barberio says serves as a recurrent trigger for the development of severe psychiatric symptoms.
He goes on to describe the “appalling living conditions and exposure to constant violence, the lack of freedom and rights accorded to migrants, the severe deterioration of health and mental health, and the everyday stress and pressure placed on all inhabitants” – an experience Barberio likens to old-fashioned mental asylums not seen in parts of Europe since the mid-20th century, and declares that Moria camp is “in a state of emergency” that requires decisive action immediately.
The sentiment was shared by Louise Roland-Gosselin, MSF’s head of mission in Greece.
“This is the third year that MSF has been calling on the Greek authorities and the EU to take responsibility for their collective failures and to put in place sustainable solutions to avoid this catastrophic situation,” she said.
“It is time to immediately evacuate the most vulnerable to safe accommodation in other European countries and to stop this never-ending cycle of emergency decongestions and the horrendous conditions we continue to witness in Moria.”