This World Mental Health Day, refugees in Greece are more vulnerable than ever as plans for closed facilities threaten wellbeing of thousands

This World Mental Health Day, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is concerned for the mental health and wellbeing of the 4,000 asylum seekers living on the Greek islands who continue to be kept in camps with severe restrictions on movement. Plans for the construction of permanent facilities on Lesvos and Chios have now been confirmed, in addition to Kos and Leros, alongside Samos where the first center was opened last month. Constructed on remote parts of the islands, these new reception centers will be surrounded by military-grade fencing and residents will only be permitted to enter and exit at restricted hours. They will be under constant surveillance by CCTV and video monitors, drones, alarms with cameras, and control gates with metal detectors and x-ray devices. The IRC is especially worried about the mental health of children: between February and August this year, child protection teams on Lesvos carried out 170 psychological support sessions with 43 children, almost all of whom required immediate psychological support. Of those we supported, 10 children experienced abuse and exploitation. The constant feeling of fear, anxiety, and insecurity that they experience is worrying, and will only increase if they are moved to a closed center where they are not allowed to leave. Speaking from Samos, Irini Serafeim, IRC mental health manager for Chios and Samos said, “It should be unthinkable that people have been left to languish in such degrading and dangerous conditions in Europe today. The IRC provides mental health support to people living in Lesvos, Samos, and Chios, and our clients have reported symptoms of depression and anxiety, exacerbated by the latest attempt to house them out of sight and out of mind in fenced-off enclosures that serve as a reminder of past traumatic experiences. “This World Mental Health Day, I hope the world can acknowledge the mental health crisis that continues on the Greek islands. For too long, Europe has turned its back on those who need help the most. It’s time to shift the focus from walls to welcome and for leaders to take tangible steps to make sure that people – like those the IRC serves – are given the opportunity to live in safe and dignified conditions. Without these most basic things, their mental health is at risk.” Since 2018, IRC’s mental health and psychosocial support services for the islands of Lesvos, Chios, and Samos have operated with the kind support of donors like The Malcolm Hewitt Wiener Foundation and The Melkus Family Foundation. Our 2020 report details the alarming state of mental health among refugees who were trapped on the Aegean islands. News Mobilization Network

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