EU-Turkey migrant deal impacts mental health of refugees on Greek islands – Watchdog

Refugees crossing the Mediterranean sea on a boat heading from Turkish coast to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos (Photo: Mstyslav Chernov/Unframe).

The EU-Turkey refugee deal, which aims to reduce the number of asylum seekers coming to Greece, has provoked a mental health crisis among thousands of migrants who have been trapped on Greek islands since March 2016, a human rights watchdog revealed on Wednesday.

In May and June, Human Rights Watch (HRW) conducted research on the island of Lesbos, were the organization “documented the deteriorating mental health of asylum seekers and migrants – including incidents of self-harm, suicide attempts, aggression, anxiety, and depression – caused by the Greek policy of ‘containing’ them on islands, often in horrifying conditions, to facilitate speedy processing and return to Turkey.”

According to HRW, such factors as insecurity, harsh camp conditions, lack of access to services and information about the asylum process, delays in the asylum procedure, and fears of being detained and deported to Turkey have a huge impact on mental health of asylum seekers. This adds on the already existing trauma most asylum seeks have from the war and violence in their home countries.

While conducting their survey, HRW experts held interviews with representatives from the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), International Organization for Migration (IOM), European Commission, and Greek Asylum Service, as well as dozens of refugees. Most of the respondents confirmed a high prevalence of depression, anxiety, and psychosis among refugees on Greek islands.

In March 2016, Turkey and the European Union agreed on a deal under which Ankara pledged to take back all undocumented migrants who arrive in EU states through its territory. In exchange, the European Union provides accommodation for Syrian refugees within the European Union on a one-for-one basis, as well as for major concessions on membership and visas.

On 15 March, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch Eva Cosse said the migrant agreement was “an unmitigated disaster” for refugees and migrants, as they were trapped on Greek islands and suffering from rough conditions.