Located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa, Greece is a major entry point for refugees and migrants making the journey to Europe.
Nearly 80 percent of the 950,000 plus people who have reached Europe by sea in 2015 arrived through Greece.
MSF in Greece 2015
Prior to the current refugee crisis, six straight years of recession beginning in 2008 reduced the economy by about a quarter of its previous size and drove unemployment to record levels.
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) first worked in Greece in 1991 providing healthcare for people otherwise excluded.
Today, our attention is focused towards Greece’s Dodecanese islands – the islands where many refugees first make land in desperate conditions – and on the border with Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Mohammed, 26, from Afghanistan
“I already spent 4,000 dollars to smugglers to bring me here. It was money that I had saved over six years from running the pharmacy and I also borrowed some money.
"I have given about 1,000 dollars to my family to survive in Afghanistan. After this, I will go to Athens and then God will decide where next.
"It’s better to go out of Greece because it’s the poorest country in Europe so we need to go further. But you have to pay lots of money for that, and I don’t have any left, so I will have to try and do it on my own.”
MSF’s work in Greece: 2015
More than 856,000 refugees and migrants arrived by sea or land in Greece in 2015, making it the main entry point for people attempting to reach Europe.
Volunteers and civil society organisations mobilised to help new arrivals, and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) provided healthcare. A third of the people landing on Greece’s shores were women and children. Approximately 91 per cent came from countries affected by war and violence – predominantly Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.
Most disembarked on the islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Kos and Leros. On Lesbos alone, as many as 6,000 people were arriving each day in October.
Lesbos and Samos
In July, MSF opened clinics in Moria and Kara Tepe camps on Lesbos and set up a mobile clinic in the port, where thousands of people waited out in the open in sweltering heat to travel on to Athens. MSF improved water and sanitation facilities, provided waste management and installed chemical toilets and water points in Moria.
Over 16,100 medical consultations were carried out and 3,000 people received mental health support.
An MSF team began to offer medical assistance to people landing on Samos in October. A mobile team welcomed them and transferred them to the registration office at the main port, where staff conducted medical consultations. The team also distributed relief items and an average of 540 meals a day to those living in the reception centre.
MSF was the only humanitarian organisation present on Agathonisi, a small island near Samos. A team met arrivals and provided shelter and medical care.
We have decided to suspend our activities linked to the Moria “hotspot” on Lesvos without further notice. The decision comes following the EU-Turkey deal which will lead to the forced return of migrants and asylum seekers from the Greek island. “We took the extremely difficult decision to end our activities in Moria because continuing to work inside would make us complicit in a system we consider to be both unfair and inhumane,” said Marie Elisabeth Ingres, MSF Country Manager in Greece. “We will not allow our assistance to be instrumentalised for a mass expulsion operation and we refuse to be part of a system that has no regard for the humanitarian or protection needs of asylum seekers and migrants.” This photo was taken by @pensovic on a visit with MSF to Moria camp in October 2015. #MSF #DoctorsWithoutBorders #Lesvos #Moria #Greece #EUTurkey #refugee #mud #garbagebag #rubbishbag #Afghan #refugeecrisis
As there were no official reception systems on any of the Dodecanese Islands, MSF started to provide shelter, food and medical screening on Kos in March. In September, local authorities closed Captain Elias camp, an abandoned hotel used by asylum seekers as temporary shelter and where MSF provided basic emergency assistance. The migrants and refugees had few options but to sleep outdoors in Kos town until MSF set up a tent camp near an archaeological park.
In June MSF started operating a mobile medical clinic visiting Leros, Simi, Tilos and Kalymnos islands. MSF established a permanent presence on Leros in September, with teams working on shelter, water and sanitation and providing mental health support and basic healthcare. Across Kos and Leros, the team carried out over 14,000 medical consultations and provided mental health support to 6,000 people.
On the mainland
In Athens, MSF conducted 708 medical consultations at Eleonas transit centre, which houses people who want to apply for asylum in Greece. Those identified as victims of torture received specialised care at the Kypseli rehabilitation centre, in collaboration with Babel and the Greek Council for Refugees.
In Idomeni transit camp, close to the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), MSF ran a mobile medical clinic offering basic healthcare and mental health support, and donated relief items such as blankets and washing kits. Over 13,000 consultations were carried out between April and December. Between June and December, MSF mental health teams also provided individual and group sessions to over 14,000 people.
Find out more in our 2015 International Activity Report.
At the end of 2015, MSF had 12 field staff in Greece. MSF has been providing medical assistance in the country since 1991.