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Society

A Most Depressing Place: Lesbos’ Lingering Refugee Tent City

September 9, 2021

A year after a fire at the notorious Moria detention camp on Lesbos forced refugees and migrants to move into a tent city – a new facility not built despite promises from the European Union and Greece's New Democracy government – depression and mental health maladies are overwhelming those living there.

That was the assertion of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) which said it had data showing how a “string of broken promises have devastated the mental health of people trapped on the Greek islands.

Immediately after the fire that authorities said was set by a handful of refugees I a protest against COVID-19 pandemic lockdown measures, the EU’s Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson vowed “No more Morias” but the IRC said there are still 4,000 people in the tent city “trapped in undignified and unsafe conditions,” that other activists have also decried as inhumane.

The agency said that waiting there in hopes of being granted asylum, a process that can take two years or more, has taken its toll on their mental health despite psychological services being offered.

Some 93 percent of them reported anxiety and 96 percent said they feel depressed, a big jump from 84 percent when they were moved into the facility that has flooded and where critics said conditions are intolerable.

“Greece continues to place asylum seekers in undignified conditions that have proven detrimental to their mental health and wellbeing, and shows no sign of ending its policies of containment that were cemented by the EU-Turkey Deal in 2016,” the IRC said.

That was in reference to an essentially-suspended agreement in which Turkey was supposed to contain some 4.4 million refugees and migrants who went there fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands and to take back from Greece those denied asylum.

That has seen only a handful return to Turkey and with Greece's government declaring that country safe for them to be sent back to as a measure to speed deportations and further empty camps.

The IRC said that plans to build new EU-funded permanent facilities in remote corners on five Greek islands near Turkey's coast, including Lesbos “could confine asylum seekers in de-facto prisons and further destroy their chances of integrating into the local community,” if given sanctuary.

The group said 63 percent of them on Lesbos are from Afghanistan and Greece fears another wave could try to reach the country, fleeing theirs in the aftermath of the takeover by the terrorist Taliban.

Afghans also make up 63 percent of clients supported by the IRC’s mental health programme on Lesvos, with 95 percent reporting having experienced depression as their days become more desperate and despairing and hope runs low.

Dukas Protogiros, an IRC psychologist on Lesbos said that in the three years the group has offered mental health support that it has “witnessed continuously shocking levels of PTSD, depression and anxiety,” said to be getting worse now.

“People remain trapped in undignified living conditions. People are now housed in a camp that is fiercely exposed to the elements and prone to flooding, as well as lacking sufficient infrastructure such as electricity to keep people warm, during the winter months, and safe,” he added.

The IRC denounced Greece's plans to keep out more Afghan refugees, including extending a border wall with Turkey near the Evros River which has seen many die trying to get across the perilous waters.

It said that the new facilities planned will pen people in and will reportedly included surveillance and border safeguards such as monitors and drones and cut them off from local communities.

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