Rewriting history: Caring for children trapped in an island prison


Rewriting history: Caring for children trapped in an island prison

Author: | 3 April 2019

Moria camp was built on the Greek island of Lesbos to house the influx of asylum seekers making the dangerous journey across the Aegean Sea on flimsy rubber boats to seek safety in Europe. Today, inhumane living conditions, frequent violence, and prolonged uncertainty about the future have created a mental health emergency for the refugees stranded in this island prison—with children among those most at risk.

In September, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) called for the urgent evacuation of children and other vulnerable people from the camp. At the time there were around 9,000 people living in Moria, triple its capacity. Greek authorities began moving people to other facilities this winter, but the population still hovers around 5,000. 

MSF provides mental health care and other medical services to camp residents, who have fled from countries including Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Democratic Republic of Congo. Many of the children have already experienced trauma and extreme violence in countries at war and are now subjected to ongoing stress and further violence, including sexual violence, in a place where they expected to find safe refuge.

Each week, MSF teams working in the camp see multiple cases of minors who have harmed themselves or attempted suicide. Other child patients suffer from panic attacks, anxiety, mutism, aggressive outbursts, and constant nightmares.