Pushbacks, detention and violence towards migrants on Lesbos


Pushbacks, detention and violence towards migrants on Lesbos

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msf.org | 25 May 2023

Pushbacks, detention and violence towards migrants on Lesbos

Several patients have told MSF staff about being traumatically intercepted and forcibly pushed back to sea on previous attempts to reach Greece

“When we are alerted of newly arrived people in urgent need of medical assistance, we spend hours – sometimes days – looking for them as they are often hiding in forests,” says Osman. 

People we find have told us about encountering masked men posing as doctors to gain their trust, or as recently reported in The New York Times article, even as MSF staff. 

“If this is confirmed, it is unacceptable and a serious manipulation of humanitarian aid,” says Osman. 

In some instances, MSF teams have encountered unidentifiable vehicles without plates in locations near our interventions, often driven by individuals with black covers on their faces. Humanitarian assistance for new arrivals is seriously reduced due to fears of criminalisation. MSF is now the only independent organisation providing support to migrants arriving on Lesbos. 

Cruel deterrence tactics

Migrants and asylum seekers arriving to Lesbos are sent to two centres according to the location of arrival: Mavrovouni and Megala Therma. In Mavrovouni, one of several EU-funded Closed Controlled Access Centres (CCAC), up to 2,700 people have been accommodated in 2023. 

CCACs were marketed as an improvement in living conditions for migrants but were designed to severely restrict people’s movement and keep them contained in prison-like facilities. On 17 May, Greek authorities stopped providing food to recognised refugees and people who are denied international protection, announcing plans to evict them. 

Furthermore, children belonging to families who were denied international protection have been stripped of their social security numbers, making them ineligible to receive basic vaccinations, violating their rights.

“Tensions have risen in the CCAC as a result,” says Osman. “Patients complain about the humiliation they suffer standing in line for hours, and the frustration related to the reduction of food. The ministry is using food as leverage to force people to leave the facility.”

MSF condemns the use of deprivation to force people out of the facility. “Stripping hundreds of people of their basic rights, including access to food and shelter, with no alternatives could have serious consequences on people’s physical and mental health,” says Osman. 

Arbitrary detention 

In Megala Therma, on the northern coast of Lesbos, where our teams have been providing healthcare since 2020, the situation is alarming. Formerly a government COVID-19 quarantine centre, the facility now houses migrants before they are transferred to the Mavrovouni CCAC.  

People in Megala Therma are not registered and are arbitrarily detained for days, in some cases for more than two weeks, before being transferred to the CCAC of Mavrovouni. Living conditions in Megala Therma are dire. People are put into overcrowded Refugee Housing Units that have no beds – sometimes 14 people are squeezed into a unit with space for five. 

All people, including children, are housed together, irrespective of their vulnerabilities without consideration for safety and protection procedures. The facility is also isolated, making it considerably difficult for medical actors to access the facility to respond to medical emergencies. 

MSF doctors visit twice a week, but if medical emergencies occur on any other day, no one is on site to respond, and it would take an ambulance more than an hour to reach the patient.

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