Τhe EU Refugee Crisis: a day in the life of a Refugee in Greece

UNHCR Gutteres Moria

UN High Commissioner for refugees António Guterres sits among two young boys from Syria in a play area at the Moria Identification Centre, Lesvos. © UNHCR/A. Zavallis

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Ms Sofia Radi, a second year Μedical Student from the University of Athens, Greece. Ms Radi is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA). The opinion expressed in this piece belongs to the writer and does not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

A family, a job, a house to live, health, dreams… Things taken for granted, until war, persecution, torture and sexual violence force us to live in a different reality. And lives change, dreams crumble, families separate and houses collapse. This was the case for people from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, who in 2015, begun a long journey, with uncertain destination, but a certain single companion; Hope.

Now, due to the application of the EU-Turkey deal in 2016, around 15.000 refugees are found trapped in the Greek Islands, applying for asylum. Families with young children who struggled for hundreds of miles to seek a new life, find themselves stranded in fields of knee-mud and freezing rain, huddled in blankets and tarpaulins to protect them from the elements. Detention centers like those in Lesvos, Kos, and Chios are supposed to provide shelter for refugees. However, camps, exceed the recommended capacity and cannot ensure them any sign of a dignified life.

In Moria (Lesvos), over 5.000 refugees are detained in an inhumane condition, where people are forced to live with unrelated refugees in the same tent, or in containers where ‘rooms’ are separated with blankets. Rain and wind are an everyday threat for the tottery tents, while the lack of electricity and heating, leaves many families unprotected from the freezing winter. Consequently, there have been cases of illness and deaths caused by people living in damp and cold housing,  also poisoning from makeshift heating devices.

Access to healthcare is considered a luxury and for many, access to clean water and sufficient proper food is limited. Poor hygiene and sanitation contribute to the deplorable conditions in the camps. There are limited communal squat toilets – which make their usage for people with disabilities impossible -, and showers without warm water. On top of that, feces which can be found inside the sanitary facilities and mounds of sewage and litter next to the tents, exacerbate the obnoxious atmosphere.

Refugees often suffer from insomnia, which not only stems from the uncomfortable conditions of shelter, but also due to their traumatized mental health. Above all, fear of rejection dominates. In addition, the rise of alcohol and drug abuse inside the camp, amplifies refugees’ feeling of dread when walking out of the tents.

With insufficient security, lack of psychological support and education, there is place for violent fights to erupt, as well as for verbal attacks and sexual harassment towards women to occur. Consequently, not only do they feel trapped on the islands but also in their tents, since going to the toilet for example, especially at nights where there is no light and privacy, can be dangerous.

Raising awareness about the refugee crisis is indispensable. However, humans tend to forget. In order to mobilize them to increase pressure on the authorities to act quickly and effectively, they have to feel the despair, the insecurity and the distress prevailing inside the overcrowded squalors. To feel those emotions, they need to witness by themselves the current situation.

Τherefore, our organization Hellenic Medical Students’ International Committee (HelMSIC), as a member of the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA) organizes projects to educate medical students about inequalities in healthcare for vulnerable social groups. Through ‘Chiron’, medical students get the chance to volunteer in the Open Polyclinics of Medecins Du Monde and familiarize with the everyday struggles refugees face in their way to access healthcare services.

The truth is that refugees, have already survived in the camps for a prolonged time, waiting for the endless bureaucratic procedures, concerning their asylum request, to be arranged.

The question is, for how long will they be ‘living’ in areas that resemble prisons, overwhelmed by uncertainty about their lives and future?

Sources

http://ec.europa.eu/echo/files/aid/countries/factsheets/greece_en.pdf

https://msf.gr/magazine/moria-ekei-poy-stamatise-o-hronos

https://www.amnesty.gr/news/press/article/21215/ellada-amesi-anagki-na-metaferthoyn-oi-aitoyntes-asylo-apo-ta-nisia

https://www.hrw.org/video-photos/interactive/2017/12/21/trapped

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/17/refugees-in-greece-suffering-after-eu-deal-with-turkey-say-ngos

About the author

Sofia Radi is a second year Μedical Student from the University of Athens, Greece. Apart from her medical studies themselves, she has a great interest in social and political issues concerning her country. She has been actively engaged to HelMSIC, by taking part on programs that regard the sector of Public Health and Human Rights. This year, she became a Local Officer on Public Health, desiring to offer more to the organization.

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