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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 October 2018

Aid group warns of mental health crisis in Lesbos

Greece moved another 400 people from its biggest migrant camp on Tuesday

Two migrant men and four babies sit inside a tent at a makeshift camp next to the Moria camp for refugees and migrants on the island of Lesbos, Greece. Reuters
Two migrant men and four babies sit inside a tent at a makeshift camp next to the Moria camp for refugees and migrants on the island of Lesbos, Greece. Reuters

Greece moved another 400 people from its biggest migrant camp on Tuesday as the International Rescue Committee (IRC) charity warned of a mental health emergency there with 30 per cent of people having attempted suicide.

The government, under pressure from aid groups and local authorities, said it will transfer 2,000 people from Moria camp in Lesbos to the mainland by the end of the month.

In a report published on Tuesday, the IRC said asylum seekers in Moria, most of whom are Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan, were under "enormous mental strain".

Citing testimonials of patients who have visited its own clinic on the island, IRC said that in addition to the 30 per cent of people who had attempted suicide about 60 per cent had contemplated it.

"Several times I have attempted suicide," the report quoted Ahmad, a 35-year-old Iraqi single father of four children as saying. "The only reason I am glad I didn't succeed is because of the children."

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Asylum seekers were living in conditions that did not meet humanitarian standards, IRC said. Eighty-four people shared one shower and 72 shared one toilet.

"The sewage system is so overwhelmed that raw sewage has been known to reach the mattresses where children sleep, and flows untreated into open drains and sewers," IRC said.

Moria, in a disused military base, now holds nearly three times as many people as it was designed to, according to government figures, forcing hundreds to spill over in tents in an olive grove.

Close to 900 people were moved between September 10 to 20 and another 1,000 will be transferred this week, Migration Minister Dimitris Vitsas said on Monday. Most are taken to facilities in northern Greece.

Jana Frey, IRC's Greece director, said the government needed to sustain efforts to ease overcrowding.

"We need a long-term strategy that ensures we never again see conditions like this at Moria," Mr Frey said.

Small numbers of boats carrying migrants and refugees continue to arrive on Greek islands every week. A slow asylum process and huge backlog of applications mean it can take months for decisions to be delivered.