Greek refugees face health crisis as Lesvos Covid-19 center closes | Global development

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In a further blow to refugees and migrants living in dire conditions in Greece, the Médecins San Frontières (MSF) frontline medical association announced on Thursday that it had been forced to close its Covid isolation center. 19 in Lesvos after authorities imposed fines and potential charges.From the island of Lesvos to the Greek capital of Athens, asylum seekers and recognized refugees, some with serious health problems, cannot access health care or see a doctor as treatment is disrupted by new regulations.

Asmaan * from Afghanistan is 10 years old. For eight months, she lived in a makeshift tent with her family on the outskirts of the olive grove surrounding Moria camp in Lesbos. She is one of more than 17,000 asylum seekers and refugees living in detention here since March 23.

Asmaan is a familiar face in the MSF-run pediatric clinic just outside the main entrance. “She was throwing up, shivering through the nights and became listless,” her mother Sharif * said. “We were really alarmed when she was bleeding while going to the bathroom.” Diagnosed with acute inflammation in her kidney, Asmaan was transferred to the island hospital. Sharif said staff wanted to send her daughter to the mainland for treatment. But the family cannot leave Lesbos until their asylum procedure is completed.

“Only very serious cases can be transferred to the mainland,” Babis Anitsakis, director of infectious diseases at Mytilene Hospital, told The Guardian. “This is also the case for the local population.” Such cases often involve waiting two to three months in the camp before a transfer can be arranged, he said.

“We are confronted daily with patients from Moria who have diseases such as tuberculosis or HIV. We are simply not equipped for these treatments. In addition, we are facing enormous translation difficulties. At night, medical staff work with a phone translation app to communicate with patients, which can be disastrous in an emergency.







Some of the refugees on the streets of Athens are heavily pregnant women and new mothers. Photograph: Faris Al-Jawad / MSF

For Giovanna Scaccabarozzi, doctor at MSF in Lesvos, Asmaan’s case is typical of a system in which refugees and asylum seekers find it increasingly difficult to access appropriate health care, often despite of desperate need.

“Even survivors of torture and sexual violence are now on their own with no one to talk to and no possibility of escaping the highly traumatic space of Moria,” she said. The lockdown of the camp allowed fewer people to reach the MSF mental health clinic in Mytilene.

“From five to ten appointments a day, we’re now down to two to three a week in the city’s torture clinic,” Scaccabarozzi said. Even when people arrive at the clinic, “it feels like you are treating a burnt person while they are still standing in the fire.”

The closure of the Covid-19 isolation unit on Thursday fell to the island authorities who enforce town planning regulations, MSF said. “We are deeply disappointed that local authorities were unable to reverse these potential fines and charges in light of the global pandemic, despite the efforts of relevant stakeholders,” said Stephan Oberreit, MSF Head of Mission in Greece. “Lesvos’ public health system would simply be unable to cope with the devastation caused by an epidemic in Moria – that’s why we intervened. Today we had to reluctantly shut down a crucial part of the Covid-19 response for Moria.

Athens has become a beacon of hope for those living in the overcrowded camps on the island, but a recent change in policy has seen people arriving in Athens with virtually destitute refugee status, many of whom are struggling with permanent health.

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