EU policy ‘worsening’ mental health for refugees on Greek islands | Greece News

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  • EU policy ‘worsening’ mental health for refugees on Greek islands

    New research says more asylum-seekers stranded in EU’s ‘hotspot’ centres experiencing severe mental health symptoms.

    A prominent humanitarian group has warned of a worsening mental health crisis among asylum-seekers trapped at refugee camps on three Greek islands, saying its research reveals severe symptoms among people of all ages and backgrounds, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and self-harm.

    The International Rescue Committee (IRC), in a new report (https://www.rescue-uk.org/courage-to-continue) on Thursday, said nearly 15,000 people remain stranded at the European-Union funded Reception and Identification Centres, camps known as “hotspots” that were set up on Europe’s borders almost five years ago to swiftly process applications for asylum.

    Citing data collected from 904 asylum-seekers supported by its mental health programmes on the islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos, the IRC said one in three of its clients reported suicidal thoughts, while one in five reported having made attempts to take their lives.

    “I even tried to hang myself but my son saw me and called my husband,” Fariba, a 32-year-old Afghan woman, was quoted as saying. The mother of two young children lives in the Vathy camp in the island of Samos.

    “I think about death a lot here: that it would be a good thing for the whole family, that if I could add a medicine in our food and we all died it would be a deliverance. But then I look at my daughter and I think it is not her time yet,” she said.

    The hotspot centres were established up in 2015, when the Aegean islands, especially Lesbos, came under enormous pressure, with nearly a million refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe arriving on the Greek islands.

    In January of this year, the five camps together hosted more than 38,600 asylum-seekers – a number six times higher than the hotspots’ capacity. The number had reduced significantly by November, yet, asylum seekers still live under “inhumane” conditions and “in great distress, with limited access to food, water and sanitation,” read the report.
    ‘Alarming spike’

    On Lesbos, thousands of people live in a temporary camp after a fire burned down their overcrowded facility known as the Moria refugee camp. With winter in full swing, many people now live in tents battered by winds and flooding, the report said, adding an even deeper sense of exhaustion and frustration. On Sunday, the camp of Kara Tepe in Lesbos – where more than 7,000 people live – was flooded for the third time after three days of rain amid stormy weather conditions.

    Mohammad, a 23-year-old Syrian asylum seeker who fled the city of Idlib in 2019, told Al Jazeera how he is affected by depression and sleeping disorders.

    “How could my mental health not be affected? When you wake up and find a rat on your chest, when you are constantly waiting [for your legal status to proceed], when rain is pouring into your tent for days, you have no toilet but just garbage around you?” he said, asking his surname to be withheld as his second attempt to gain residency is under way.

    This is the second winter Mohammad has spent in a self-made wooden hut in what is known as “the jungle” in the island of Samos. The 600-people capacity camp, located on a hill, comprises of tents made out of recycled material and houses more than 3,000 people.

    Mohammad said there were high level of distress and constant fear of possible violent escalations among the residents of the camp. “We need some sort of improvement as it is getting difficult to control the anger,” he said.

    The coronavirus pandemic and the strict restrictions on movement has inflicted further blows.

    The IRC reported an “alarming spike” in the number of people disclosing psychotic symptoms following the pandemic, jumping from one in seven to almost one in four. There was also a sharp rise in people reporting self-harm, which jumped by 66 percent, as well as a surge in those reporting symptoms of PTSD, which climbed from close to half of clients beforehand to almost two in three people.

    These severe symptoms of mental health negatively affect people’s ability to cope with the many challenges they face at the hotspot centres, such as standing in line for hours to get food, or successfully navigate the complex asylum process, the report said.
    ‘Trauma of hotspot centres’

    “Such stressful situation triggers a sort of re-traumatisation,” said Essam Daod, a psychiatric and mental health director of Humanity Crew, an NGO providing first response mental health interventions to refugees in Samos.

    “You left home because you felt hopeless, unsafe and with a massive distrust with the system. You reached Europe and you start to stabilise your mood, but then COVID-19 destroyed all of this triggering the same feeling they had when they were fleeing their own country,” he said.

    IRC found that mental health issues can also cause high levels of stigma and discrimination, while increasing vulnerability to exploitation or violence, including sexual violence.

    Children are also bearing the brunt of the the worsening crisis.

    “When parents break down, it has a major impact on children,” said Thanasis Chirvatidis, a psychologist with Doctors Without Borders who has been working in Lesbos since August.

    Children perceive parents who experience psychological collapse as being unable to protect them, said Chirvatidis. The result is an increasing number of children are developing symptoms such as hopeless, insomnia, night terrors and regression symptoms as they go backwards at an earlier mental state where they had better memories and felt safer.

    All of the people in the hotspot centres – adult and children alike – “even those who had a sense of normalcy in their life before, at this point will need support in the future for sorting what they are going through here, which has now become a trauma itself,” said Chirvatidis.

    https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/12/17/eus-refugee-policy-on-greek-islands-worsening-mental-health

    #Moria #santé_mentale #asile #migrations #réfugiés #îles #Lesbos #Mer_Egée #Grèce #traumatisme #trauma #hotspots #rapport

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    • Thousands of refugees in mental health crisis after years on Greek islands

      One in three on Aegean isles have contemplated suicide amid EU containment policies, report reveals
      https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/b1b9c9d90a1caa8f531cc8964d98aa5f334fc711/0_212_3500_2100/master/3500.jpg?width=620&quality=85&auto=format&fit=max&s=cdabee9ba1451c3fdb469b

      Years of entrapment on Aegean islands has resulted in a mental health crisis for thousands of refugees, with one in three contemplating suicide, a report compiled by psychosocial support experts has revealed.

      Containment policies pursued by the EU have also spurred ever more people to attempt to end their lives, according to the report released by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) on Thursday.

      “Research reveals consistent accounts of severe mental health conditions,” says the report, citing data collated over the past two and a half years on Lesbos, Samos and Chios.

      Depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and self-harm “among people of all ages and backgrounds” have emerged as byproducts of the hopelessness and despair on Europe’s eastern borderlands, it says.

      “As many as three out of four of the people the IRC has assisted through its mental health programme on the three islands reported experiencing symptoms such as sleeping problems, depression and anxiety,” its authors wrote.

      “One in three reported suicidal thoughts, while one in five reported having made attempts to take their lives.”

      In a year upended by coronavirus and disastrous fires on Lesbos – about 13,000 asylum seekers were temporarily displaced after the destruction of Moria, the island’s infamous holding centre – psychologists concluded that the humanitarian situation on the outposts had worsened considerably.

      The mental health toll had been aggravated by lockdown measures that had kept men, women and children confined to facilities for much of 2020, they said.

      Previously, residents in Moria, Europe’s biggest refugee camp before its destruction, had participated in football games outside the facility and other group activities.

      Noting that the restrictions were stricter for refugees and migrants than those applied elsewhere in Greece, IRC support teams found a marked deterioration in the mental wellbeing of people in the camps since rolling lockdowns were enforced in March.

      “Research demonstrates how the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic further exacerbated the suffering of already vulnerable asylum seekers and exposed the many flaws in Europe’s asylum and reception system,” the report says.

      Over the year there has been a rise in the proportion of people disclosing psychotic symptoms, from one in seven to one in four. Disclosures of self-harm have increased by 66%.

      The IRC, founded by Albert Einstein in 1933 and now led by the former British foreign secretary David Miliband, said the findings offered more evidence of the persistent political and policy failures at Greek and EU level.

      Five years after authorities scrambled to establish reception and identification centres, or hotspots, on the frontline isles at the start of the refugee crisis, about 15,000 men, women and children remain stranded in the installations.

      Describing conditions in the camps as dangerous and inhumane, the IRC said residents were still denied access to sufficient water, sanitation, shelter and vital services such as healthcare, education and legal assistance to process asylum claims.

      On Lesbos, the island most often targeted by traffickers working along the Turkish coast, government figures this week showed an estimated 7,319 men, women and children registered in a temporary camp erected in response to an emergency that has been blamed on arsonists.

      Three months after the fires, more than 5,000 people have been transferred to the mainland, according to Greek authorities.

      Of that number, more than 800 were relocated to the EU, including 523 children who had made the journey to Europe alone and were also held in Moria.

      Many had hoped the new camp would be a vast improvement on Moria, whose appalling conditions and severe overcrowding earned it global notoriety as a humanitarian disaster.

      But the new facility, located on a former firing range within metres of the sea, has drawn condemnation from locals and NGOs.

      “The winds hit it, the rains hit it and there’s no shade, which is why this place is unsuitable for any camp to be,” the island’s mayor, Stratis Kitilis, said.

      “It’s right next door to all the warehouses, transport companies and supermarkets that keep Lesbos going. No one wants it there.”

      This month the EU announced it was working with Athens’ centre-right administration to replace the installation with a modern structure that will open next September. New reception and identification centres will also be built on Samos, Kos and Lesbos. “They say it’ll be nothing like Moria and will be more of a transfer stop, but late next year is a very long time,” said Kitilis.

      Kiki Michailidou, the psychologist in charge of the IRC’s psychosocial support programmes on Lesbos, agreed that the conditions were far from dignified.

      As winter approached, camp residents were resorting to ever more desperate measures to keep warm, she said, while also being forced to stand in long queues for food and communal toilets.

      With camp managers moving families into giant tents, social distancing remains elusive. “A lot of people fear the unknown again,” Michailidou said.

      “Moria was terrible but it was also a familiar place, somewhere they called their home. After the fires they lost their point of reference and that has had a significant impact on their mental health too.”

      The IRC report calls for European policymakers to learn from past failings. While the EU’s new pact on asylum and migration is a step in the right direction, it says, it still falls short of the bloc managing migration in a humane and effective way.

      Echoing that sentiment, Michailidou said: “After the fires we saw what could happen. There were transfers to the mainland and children were relocated to other parts of Europe. That’s proof that where there’s political will and coordinated action, the lives of people in these camps can be transformed.”

      https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/dec/17/thousands-refugees-mental-crisis-years-greek-islands