Cite as: Eleftherakos, C., van den Boogaard, W., Barry D., Severy, N., Kotsioni I. &Roland - Gosselin L., 2018, "I prefer dying fast than dying slowly", how institutional abuse worsens the mental health of stranded Syrian, Afghan and Congolese migrants on Lesbos island following the implementation of EU-Turkey deal", Conflict and Health. doi.org/10.1186/s13031-018-0172-y
In 2015 and early 2016, close to 1 million migrants transited through Greece, on their way to Western Europe. In early 2016, the closure of the “Balkan-route” and the EU/Turkey-deal led to a drastic reduction in the flow of migrants arriving to the Greek islands. The islands became open detention centers, where people would spend months or years under the constant fear of being returned to Turkey.
Syrians were generally granted refugee status in Greece and those arrived before the 20th of March 2016 had the option of being relocated to other European countries. Afghans had some chances of being granted asylum in Greece, whilst most migrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo were refused asylum.
In a clinic run by Médecins sans Frontières on Lesbos Island, psychologists observed a deterioration of the migrant’s mental health (MH) since March 2016. In order to understand the MH needs for this stranded population it was essential to explore how, and by what factors, their mental health (MH) has been affected on Lesbos Island due to the EU/Turkey-deal.
This was a qualitative study in which eight service providers’ interviews and 12 focus group discussions with male and female Syrian, Afghan and Congolese migrants in two refugee camps on Lesbos Island. Thematic-content analysis was manually applied and triangulation of findings was undertaken to enhance the interpretation of data.
Three main themes were generated: 1) Institutional abuse, 2) Continuous traumatic stress (CTS) and 3) MH service provision. Institutional abuse was expressed by inhumane living conditions, lack of information in order to make future decisions, humiliation and depersonalization. This led to CTS that was expressed through being in a state of permanent emergency under lack of protective measures. Delays in appointments, lack of psychiatric care and differences in MH perceptions amongst migrants highlighted the provision of MH services.
The EU/Turkey-deal reduced migrant flows at a very high price. Decongestion of the camps and the elimination of institutional abuse is urgently needed to reduce CTS and improve migrants’ MH.