Marietta Provopoulou came home to find living conditions on her own soil worse than those of the African village in which she worked. After a decade of working with Medecins San Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, she took her work home to Greece to head MSF in Athens-mainly on the issue of migrant detention.
Upon discovering the conditions of migrant detention camps in Greece, Provopoulous commented that she didn’t even think such conditions were possible on the European continent. Further, other MSF members denounced the Greek government for its treatment of migrants, calling it a violation of national, European and international standards, and harmful to people’s health and dignity.
Greece is often utilized as an entry hub for migrants around the world- from Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Due to pressure from the European Union to halt the influx of immigrants, the ultra-conservative Greek government instituted its migration policy, Operation Xenious Zeus.
The policy was launched two years ago- a harsh policy that systematically detains refugees in Greece. According to MSF, undocumented migrants are routinely detained when apprehended on territory without valid documentation. Migrants, whose forced return does not occur within the initial detention period, are at risk for repeated detentions. The estimated number of migrants and asylum seekers in Greece’s detainment camps has exceeded 6,000.
Detention is frequently being used worldwide as a means to manage and restrict migrants and pressure them to return to their home soil. However, in most cases, particularly in Greece, the physical and mental health of detained migrants is largely neglected, if not abused.
In the MSF’s Invisible Suffering, a report on the condition of detention camps in Greece, it is noted that detainment has caused suffering directly linked to various health problems that require medical attention. Among these include scabies, dental problems, respiratory ailment, even tuberculosis. Mental illness is also a grim consequence; there have been several cases of suicide and incidents of detainees sewing their mouths shut as a form of protest.
Above all, the living conditions are inhumane and unsanitary. One such camp located on the Turkish border was described as having human excrement seeping through cracked pipes between the building’s floors. Detainees are crammed in dilapidated, perilous quarters. Suffering from overcrowding, filth and neglect, these migrants feel less than human. One young boy was recorded saying, “I have come for peace. I am not a criminal. I thought it was better for me to jump off the roof than to stay here.”
Despite recent international criticism, the Greek government is steadfast in its rigid policies. They have thus far shown no intention of loosening their tight reigns. It may take an international effort to bring humanitarian justice to Greek migrants.
– Samantha Scheetz