• Six months after the Moria fires, new data from Lesvos demonstrates their devastating impact on the mental health of people trapped on the island.

  • Nearly all (97%) of the IRC’s mental health clients on Lesvos reported symptoms of depression after the fires in September 2020, marking a rise of 26%. Three quarters reported symptoms of PTSD, an increase of 38%.

As we mark five years since the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement, which trapped thousands of asylum seekers in camps across the Greek islands, new data from the International Rescue Committee (IRC) indicates how severely this arrangement has impacted the mental health of people stuck in limbo on the islands.

In December, the IRC report The Cruelty of Containment highlighted the worrying decline in the mental health of people in camps across three islands. Our updated figures for Lesvos, covering all 530 clients who have been treated by the IRC’s psychologists between March 2018 and January 2021, found that four in five (79%) reported symptoms of depression while almost half (48%) had considered suicide.

These figures rose steeply following the fire that engulfed Moria camp in September. The proportion of clients suffering from depression rose from 77% to 97%, while the total reporting symptoms of PTSD increased by more than a third from 55% to 76%. The percentage reporting psychotic symptoms almost doubled to 30% 

In the immediate aftermath of the fires in September 2020, more than 12,000 people found themselves stranded on the streets of Lesvos amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Many had not only lost their shelters, but also their treasured belongings and important personal documents.

As the camp lay in ashes, most residents were eventually transferred to a new EU-funded temporary reception site, Mavrovouni. This camp is located on the coast and is fiercely exposed to the elements. It currently holds nearly 7,000 people who live in tents, with limited access to the most basic needs including electricity, heating, sanitation and medical care.

Five years since the EU-Turkey statement, people still cannot independently leave the island camps for the mainland. The EU and its member states have failed to agree on a fair, sensible and humane way to relocate people to safety. Meanwhile, asylum application procedures have been delayed by COVID-19.

Dr. Georgia Karoutzou, Senior Manager for the IRC’s mental health programme, said:

“This new IRC data from Lesvos highlights how the tragic, yet sadly predictable, fires that destroyed the notorious Moria camp six months ago continue to have a devastating impact on the mental health of people trapped on the island.

This week marks five years since the containment policies connected to the EU Turkey Agreement began to deteriorate the mental health of people trapped on the Greek islands, and three years since the IRC began addressing the severe psychological needs on Lesvos. From the start, the psychological suffering - even psychological trauma - suffered by  people living in the island camps was clear, and yet we are still repeating ourselves to policymakers.

Symptoms of depression and anxiety have spiralled among our clients, especially in the aftermath of lockdown and the fire that engulfed Moria last year. It is not right nor acceptable that people are still languishing in dangerous living conditions with little to no support, barely any health services and no electricity.“

Imogen Sudbery, the IRC’s Director of Policy and Advocacy for Europe, added:

“Five years since the commencement of the EU-Turkey statement, some 15,000 people remain trapped on the Greek islands. Their overwhelming sense of hopelessness and despair can be traced back to this concrete political decision which has left people languishing in overcrowded and under-resourced camps. 

At this tragic milestone, we’re calling on European leaders to end the ongoing misery by urgently transferring people from the islands to more appropriate accommodation on the mainland, and scaling up relocation to other EU countries. 

As negotiations on the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum ramp up, we urge policymakers to ensure that these damaging containment policies do not become a blueprint for the EU’s future approach to asylum and migration.

Today EU leaders face a stark choice. Either they can continue to relinquish responsibility for their own migration policies and leave people suffering at their borders, or they can step up and fulfil their moral and legal obligations to protect.”


Figures before the fire encompass the period from the start of IRC programmes on Lesvos in March 2018 to September 2020. Figures after the fire account for clients  between September 2020 and January 2021. Both reflect symptoms reported by clients’ during their first assessment with the IRC’s mental health team on Lesvos.

The IRC’s work in Greece

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) works across the islands providing services including sanitation, environmental health, child protection, hygiene promotion and support for victims of gender-based violence.

The IRC has provided mental health support to refugees in Greece since 2016. In 2018, the IRC began delivering a dedicated mental health programme in Lesvos in 2018, releasing recommendations and findings in the Unprotected, Unsupported, Uncertain report. Since then, programming has expanded to the islands of Samos and Chios and psychologists have supported over 900 people.