MSF raises concerns after boat tragedy in Lesvos, Greece

December 18, 2012

MSF raises concerns after boat tragedy in Lesvos, Greece  © Yannis Kolesidis

Athens,  On the dawn of Friday, December 14, a boat sank near the coast of the Greek island of Lesvos where Médecins Sans Frontières/ Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have been providing medical and relief assistance to newly arrived migrants and refugees since the 29th of October. It is believed that 28 migrants were on board. The death toll has so far risen to 21 while the coast guard is still looking for 6 missing people. There is only one survivor so far, an 18 year old male.

MSF has been addressing urgent medical and humanitarian needs of migrants and refugees arriving at the Greek-Turkish border (Aegean Islands and Evros region) since 2008. Since last August, when the authorities enhanced border control measures in Evros, MSF teams noticed a dramatic decline in the arrivals of migrants and refugees there. At the same time arrivals at the Aegean Islands increased considerably. This trend has been a cause of concern as maritime crossings are usually more hazardous, as the recent incidence in Lesvos gravely illustrates.

The majority of newly arriving people over the last few months are Afghan and Syrian nationals, among them many families with young children and vulnerable persons, like pregnant women. What our team has been witnessing is that they arrive in a state of extreme fatigue and are very frightened because of the difficult conditions experienced on the voyage.

“The experience of the journey and of the arrival to a new unfamiliar environment seems to be an especially traumatic experience particularly for children» mentions Marianthi Papagianni, medical doctor, member of the MSF team in Lesvos. “In addition to obvious health risks -primarily upper respiratory tract infections, hypothermia, lack of appropriate food- the impact on children’s mental health is something which should not be underestimated». These children might lose a parent on the trip, fall into the water, and witness someone drowning next to them. «Upon their arrival, they are scared, silent, ready to attach themselves to the first person that will give them smile» says Mrs Papagianni.

MSF tries to respond to the immediate medical and humanitarian needs of this population in cooperation with local actors and authorities. An MSF team consisting of one doctor, 2 interpreters and 1 administrator is present on the island providing medical and basic relief assistance to newly arriving migrants and refugees. MSF is also supporting with medical supplies and basic relief items people arriving in other islands through a network of cooperating local actors. 

The MSF activities addressing vulnerable migrants and refugees in Greece are funded by private donors and the organization does not receive institutional funding from the Greek government or the European Union. 

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