‘Grant Us The Simple Rights Animals Have’ – Mental Health Crisis In Kara Tepe Highlights Deficiencies Of EU’s Asylum And Migration Policies

A report published by the International Rescue Committee on 17th December (IRC) details a severe mental health crisis affecting at least 15,000 refugees entrapped for years in the 32-hectare Kara Tepe camps on the Greek island of Lesvos. Accounts of severe mental health conditions, including depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), self-harming, psychosis, and sleeping problems were included in the report. Also detailing the shortcomings of the EU’s asylum and migration policies, the report sets out proposals for immediate action to address this collective marked deterioration in the refugees’ mental health and to improve the dire conditions they endure.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic and the disastrous fire that gutted the overcrowded Moria migrant facility on Lesvos in September this year, at least 13,000 asylum seekers were temporarily displaced. Trapped in overcrowded, unsafe, and inhumane conditions, denied access to sufficient water, sanitation, shelter, healthcare, and legal assistance to process asylum claims – most of them for 2 years now – the conditions are apocalyptic. Slumping mental health as a result of these conditions underlines the refugees’ suffering and signifies the unresolved policy and political failures of both the EU and Greece.

We studied the laws to protect animals in Europe and found out they have more rights than we do…so we just ask you to grant us the simple rights animals have,’ the Moria Corona Awareness Team and the Moria White Helmets said in a scathing Christmas letter addressed to European citizens and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen.

Slow, arduous asylum procedures have fueled overcrowding in the camps. Combined with the EU’s hotspot containment approach in which a disproportionate responsibility was forced onto Greece to cope with the refugee numbers, the 2016 EU-Turkey Statement enforced a ‘geographical restriction’ which only further restricted any onward movement from the Greek Islands. Effectively, these asylum seekers are trapped. The IRC report also cites the following as ‘worrying indicators of lack of compliance with the asylum law’ taking place in these camps: a lack of adequate reception provision, systemic barriers to registration in the asylum process, and a form of ‘asylum lottery’ caused by inconsistent decision-making in an under-resourced system.

On 15th December, the Greek government came under fire when Lesvos was flooded after three days of rain in the country. Tents blown away and sunk amidst stormy weather conditions, small children wading through pools of mud, revealed the facility’s precariousness as it is situated right on the coastline and defenseless from the elements. Irrefutably, Greece’s state response is inadequate, be it in their system to process asylum claims or their efforts to ensure that the camp is habitable. Minister of Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarachi promoted the Kara Tape as ‘a clean facility, and a site with order and safety,’ at the end of facility inspections in November. However, the dilapidated state of the facilities only prove the government’s incompetent handling of the ongoing refugee crisis.

Perhaps this crisis is yet another proof of discriminatory enforcement of human rights frameworks, the rampant abuse of law, and the futility of traditional security-oriented policies in issues such as this that require a shift to humanitarian arrangements. While EU law specifies that detention must only be used as a last resort, current practices, especially with Kara Tepe – does not reflect this. The EU-Turkey Statement and its implementation has only resulted in legal lacunae, overcrowding, and this marked deterioration in refugees’ mental health. Lawmaking bodies and border management must shift away from this unsustainable political arrangement – and instead focus on long-term housing strategy, protecting hotspot residents from Covid-19, increasing safety measures, and accelerating safe transfers of people from the hotspots.