One year on from the Moria fire: 96% refugees supported by IRC in Lesvos, Greece continue to experience depression

  • The IRC saw a major increase in clients reporting anxiety, depression and showing behavioral problems in the immediate aftermath of the Moria fire.
  • One year later, 93% of clients report symptoms of anxiety, while 96% report depression and 80% now experience behavioural problems, including substance abuse and social isolation.
  • Out of 120 clients on Lesvos, three out of five are from Afghanistan
  • The IRC is concerned mental health will worsen with plans for new permanent reception centres to be constructed on remote parts of the Aegean islands, which could limit residents' access to services and interaction with host communities.

Athens, Greece, September 9, 2021 — One year since fires destroyed the Moria camp, new IRC data highlights how the European Union's string of broken promises have devastated the mental health of people trapped on the Greek islands.

In the immediate aftermath of the fires, the EU's Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson promised there would be 'no more Morias'. Yet, one year on, around 4,000 people remain trapped in undignified and unsafe conditions in a temporary camp on the island of Lesvos. New data from the IRC reveals how this has devastated residents' mental health, despite ongoing services to provide psychological support to refugees and asylum seekers. Today, 93% of clients report experiencing anxiety, while 96% report experiencing depression - a dramatic increase from the 84% reported last year.

Greece continues to place asylum seekers in undignified conditions that have proven detrimental to their mental health and wellbeing, and shows no sign of ending its policies of containment that were cemented by the EU-Turkey Deal in 2016. Plans to construct new EU-funded permanent facilities in remote corners of the Greek islands, including Lesvos, could confine asylum seekers in de-facto prisons and further destroy their chances of integrating into the local community.

At present, 63% of the refugees and asylum-seekers trapped on Lesvos are from Afghanistan, which is experiencing an escalating political and humanitarian crisis. Afghans also make up 63% of clients supported by the IRC's mental health programme on Lesvos, nearly all of whom (95%) have reported experiencing depression.

Dukas Protogiros, IRC psychologist on Lesvos said,

"The IRC has been providing mental health support to refugees in Lesvos since 2018, and in that time we have witnessed continuously shocking levels of PTSD, depression and anxiety among clients. It should be unthinkable that this situation has been going on for years, and that people have been left to languish in such degrading and dangerous conditions in Europe still today, and it is shocking that more has not been done to mitigate the mental health crisis that we have been seeing harm people across the Greek islands.

"One year on from the fire that devastated the lives of 10,000 people who were confined in Moria, people remain trapped in undignified living conditions. People are now housed in a camp that is fiercely exposed to the elements and prone to flooding, as well as lacking sufficient infrastructure such as electricity to keep people warm, during the winter months, and safe.

"Meanwhile, many refugees in Greece are from Afghanistan, and as the country faces a fresh humanitarian crisis thousands of people may attempt to flee. Instead of preparing for a well-managed, longer term response that places protection at its centre, Greece and the EU continue to wall off welcome while plans for new permanent facilities on each of the Aegean islands will take their containment policies to a worrying new level.

"Hidden away in remote areas of the islands, the new camps will reportedly keep people behind military-grade fences, under surveillance by CCTV and video monitors, drones and x-ray devices, shattering any possibility of interaction with local communities. The IRC is extremely concerned that this new model will simply exacerbate the mental health crisis already experienced by so many people trapped on the islands."

The IRC began operating in Greece in 2015, when Europe was experiencing a peak in migration. What started as an emergency response on the island of Lesvos quickly expanded to Thessaloniki and then to camps on the mainland. Currently, the IRC operates in Lesvos, Chios, Samos and Athens. The IRC opened a mental health centre for residents of Moria camp, Lesvos, in March 2018. State-provided mental health support is limited and in 2019 the programme expanded to Chios and Samos. Our 2020 report details the alarming state of mental health among refugees who were trapped on the Aegean islands.