Doctors Group Says Greece Denying Refugee Children Health Care

FILE- Henry Dunant Hospital in Athens. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Kostas Katomeris)

ATHENS – The doctors activist group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said the Greek government is deliberately keeping at least 140 refugee and migrant children with chronic, complex and life-threatening diseases in a camp on Lesbos from medical care.

MSG said the New Democracy government should send  severely ill children to the Greek mainland or other European Union countries who shut their borders, so that they can get proper medical care unavailable in the detention center, even from volunteer doctors.

“We see many children suffering from medical conditions, such as diabetes, asthma and heart disease, who are forced to live in tents, in abysmal, unhygienic conditions, with no access to the specialized medical care and medication they need,” said Dr. Hilde Vochten, MSF’s Medical Coordinator in Greece.

“MSF is in discussions with the Greek authorities in order to transfer children to the mainland for urgent medical care, but despite the fact that some children were screened, none have been transferred yet,” Vochten added.

“The government’s general unwillingness to find a swift, systemic solution for these children, including some babies, is outrageous – it harms their health and could lead to life-long consequences or even death,” said the doctor.

In July 2019, the Greek government revoked access to public healthcare for asylum seekers and undocumented people arriving in Greece, leaving more than 55,000 people without medical care, said the group.

MSF has a pediatric health care center outside the notorious Moria camp on Lesbos, a facility the BBC called “the worst in the world,” where some 18,000 people are packed into a place designed for one-sixth that capacity.

The doctors there said they have seen more than 270 cases of children suffering from chronic and complex illnesses, such as heart disease, epilepsy and diabetes that require specialized care not available on the island, even at the hospital there.

A woman identified as Shamseyeh, from Afghanistan, who lives in the camp told MSF That, “My daughter, Zahra, is suffering from autism and we live in a tiny space with almost no electricity. Often in the middle of the night she has seizures and there is no one to help us. I just want to be in a space where my daughter can play like other children and be treated by a good doctor.”

Two dozen human rights groups, activists, NGO’s and volunteers have denounced the camp as unfit for humans, pleas that have fallen largely on deaf ears from successive governments, including the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA.

MSG said that the policies of an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal between the EU and Turkey, which has allowed human traffickers to keep sending refugees and migrants to Greece, mostly to Greek islands, has put lives in danger.

“Children, women and men are paying the unjust price of migration policies based on deterrence,” said Tommaso Santo, MSF Head of Mission in Greece. “Denying children suffering from serious diseases access to healthcare is just the latest cynical move, and it is truly beyond belief,” the statement added.

Greece has some 100,000 refugees and migrants, half of them on islands where they went from Turkey after going to that country first, fleeing war and strife in their homeland, especially Afghanistan and Syria’s long-running civil war.

MSF also called for:

1- Evacuation from Lesbos of all people suffering from chronic and complex conditions, prioritizing children

2- Urgent and immediate free health care for all asylum seekers, unaccompanied minors and undocumented people in Greece

3- The end of the system of containment of refugees and asylum seekers in “horrific and inhumane conditions on Lesbos”

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