Attempted suicide and acute mental stress plague Moria, the main migrant camp on Lesbos, Greece, where over 8,000 migrants are being housed in a space only large enough for less than half that amount. According to various aid groups and news outlets, conditions at Moria have worsened since 2015, when the influx of migrants initially began to strain Greece. Human waste is flowing past the entrance and up to the beds of children, and flies plague the population of Moria as welL. All of this threatens the inhabitants with disease. But the lack of personal space, adequate sanitation and housing, and long waits for word on the status of their asylum applications is having an even worse effect on migrants’ mental health. The gravity of the matter has forced officials to float the idea of closing the Moria site if conditions do not improve.
John Kahler, a former pediatrician who went to Moria, told the Chicago Tribune that the Moria camp was one of the worst places he’d ever seen. “There’s no hope left…The despair is so thick you can cut it with a knife.”
In a statement released by Doctors Without Borders, Dr. Alessandro Barberio, a clinical psychiatrist who had worked closely on the Moria case, said the following: “While these vulnerable people await the conclusion of their asylum application, it strikes me that the appalling living conditions and the exposure to constant violence, the lack of freedom and rights accorded to migrants, the severe deterioration of health and mental health, and the everyday stress and pressure placed on all inhabitants of the island, has caused Lesbos to resemble an old-fashioned mental asylum, not seen in parts of Europe since the mid-20th century.”
The majority of migrants living at Moria have fled from violent situations in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The Syrian Civil War and the Middle East’s ongoing struggle with terrorism have forced thousands to find places to live peacefully elsewhere. Many have already been traumatized by the violence they have seen in their homelands.
But it is not peace that they find in Moria. Instead, many of those who wind up at the camp languish on the island for extended periods of time, living without the basic resources required to live in a dignified manner. They are exposed to violence and the threat of grave physical harm, partially because most of those who come to Moria are from conflicting ethnic groups, forced to live in extremely close proximity with one another.
Greece, which has been in the throes of financial disaster for a number of years, has been struggling to get back on its feet. While the EU has provided over one billion Euros for the camp at Moria, much of that money has yet to make it into the appropriate hands and the little it has received, the government seems to have wasted. For instance, according to The Guardian, some money has gone towards getting apartments for immigrants, while others must live tents. This lack of adequate planning has contributed to the overwhelming problems of sanitation, housing and care at Moria.
Officials have threatened to close the camp if situations do not improve. The risk of person-on-person violence is too great, and the astounding rate of people—including children—who have attempted, or at least considered, committing suicide at Moria is alarmingly high: reports show that 30% have actually attempted it while 60% have considered it.
Greece has asked for the help of other European countries to disperse the massive number of migrants across Europe, but these other countries remain reluctant to admit migrants from Greece. Such a denial of aid seems less the result of real concerns, and more due to the rise of nationalism in recent years. Given Greece’s financial crisis, and the obvious need for better planning and facilities in Moria, these countries should take note that the lives of human beings take precedence over prejudice and nationalism. The EU must take it upon itself not only to welcome migrants into their countries, but to assist in their assimilation by providing housing, visas, and employment assistance.
The government of Greece plans to relocate up to 7,000 migrants across the Greek mainland; however,while the plan to move migrants from Moria to the mainland will go far to alleviate the problem of overcrowding, without proper planning, a focused effort to improve cleanliness, order and the collection of resources needed to meet the basic necessities for the sustenance of a healthy human environment (shelter, healthy food, clean facilities) those who come to Moria will languish there regardless of their numbers.
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