Migrants detained in Greece face 'devastating' conditions

Migrants detained in Greece face inhuman conditions that are having "devastating" consequences on their health, Medecins sans Frontieres warned on Tuesday, demanding that the Greek government and EU stop turning a blind eye to the situation.

Overcrowding, poor ventilation, and a lack of heating and natural light are among the factors severely impacting the health and dignity of migrants and asylum seekers locked up in Greece, the aid agency said as it launched a new report entitled "Invisible Suffering" in Athens.

MSF called on Greek and European Union officials to stop ignoring the physical and mental impact of "prolonged and systematic detention".

"It is a common responsibility and a shared shame," said Ioanna Kotsioni, MSF's advisor on migration.

At a detention camp in Komotini, in the north of Greece, "I saw dirty water from toilets collecting in plastic bags hooked on to broken tubes," said Doctor Apostolos Veizis, head of the MSF mission in Greece at the launch of the report.

Many inmates complain of anxiety and depression, "while it is not uncommon for desperate migrants to go on hunger strike, to self-harm and even to attempt suicide," the report said.

Respiratory difficulties, intestinal and muscular problems, and skin conditions are also frequently reported.

"Thousands of migrants suffer in silence in inhuman detention conditions that undermine their health and dignity," said MSF director Grece Marietta Provopoulou, following the presentation of the report, which was based on more than 9,900 medical consultations inside detention centres and police stations over the past six years.

The conditions for migrants in Greece, the leading entry point for desperate migrants trying to enter the European Union, have been frequently criticised by international observers such as MSF and Human Rights Watch.

"Despite our repeated calls for improvements to detention conditions and migrants' access to healthcare, we have seen little change, while the overall situation continues to deteriorate," said Veizis.

There are currently around 6,000 migrants in more than 10 detention centres across Greece. They are routinely held up to the legal maximum of 18 months.

Many more are kept in police cells where the conditions are even worse, with no access at all to toilets and outdoor spaces, MSF said.

In February and March 2013, while MSF was carrying out research in centres in the north of the country, "nine attempted suicides took place," said Kotsioni.

- 'Shirking responsibility' -

There has been particular strain on Greece ever since it demined its land border with Turkey, and due to efforts by other countries to clamp down on entry points.

Some 43,000 irregular migrants were arrested in Greece in 2013, around half the number of the year before.

Under EU rules, the country that first receives irregular migrants is responsible for dealing with them, yet the spike in arrivals came just as Greece went through a devastating economic crisis.

That means migrants have also faced an eruption of violence by ultra-nationalist groups such as the openly fascist Golden Dawn.

"Other EU member states and European institutions cannot continue to shirk their share of responsibility," said Kotsioni.

"With first-entry countries for irregular migrants coming under increased pressure to restrict migration flows into the EU by using detention as a deterrence measure, they cannot be held solely accountable for the harm inflicted on migrants and asylum seekers.