Asylum seekers living at Moria, the reception and identification centre for new arrivals to Lesbos, are contemplating suicide in alarming numbers. So says the International Rescue Committee in “Unprotected, Unsupported, Uncertain: Recommendations to improve the mental health of asylum seekers on Lesbos,” a briefing released today which outlines steps that need to be taken, urgently, to address the escalating mental health needs of those who reside at Moria.

The majority of those being hosted at Moria are refugees from Syria,Iraq and Afghanistan. They are fleeing conflict. Already deeply traumatized by what they have experienced in their homes and along the treacherous journey to Europe, conditions at Moria only exacerbate that trauma.

Moria is dangerously overcrowded. It has the capacity for 3,100 people, and yet currently hosts over 8,500. Asylum seekers are expected to live in conditions which do not meet humanitarian standards. Approximately eighty-four people share one shower. Approximately seventy-two people share 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. Fights are a daily occurrence. Riots, which force refugees to flee the site, happen far too often. Women are particularly vulnerable and do not feel safe.

And that is only part of it.

From health care to legal aid, every service provider at Moria is overwhelmed and does not have adequate staffing to support the needs of those who reside there. Asylum seekers must wait months, if not over a year, to have their asylum claims heard.  Information is erratic at best. Staff have walked off the job more than once, such is their objection to working conditions. 

Mental health support at Moria is limited. There are only 5 psychologists operating inside Moria and they find it difficult to work in these conditions. Limited to one container, private counselling sessions are next to impossible. Staffing does not come close to meeting the need.

The IRC, which has been responding on the island of Lesbos since July 2015, opened a mental health centre for residents of Moria in March of this year. Almost thirty percent of our clients have attempted suicide either before or since arriving on Lesbos. Sixty percent of our clients have considered suicide. Our work is impeded by the fact that our clients must return to Moria once they have attended our centre. 

Moria is “moral torture,” one client told us. “It is a humanitarian catastrophe.” An Iraqi father who resides at Moria attempted suicide the day before we met him. Although he is traveling with four children he told us: “I forgot about my children in this moment.” A Syrian mother who had escaped Ghouta with her young family told us that she desperately would like to see a psychologist. “I saw a lot of people die in front of my eyes. I was so afraid for my daughters,” she says. Her youngest daughter was injured in a chemical attack on Ghouta, Syria. The family spent five months apart as they waited for her to recover, physically. The psychological impact of what she has been through is unknown.

Much more has to be done, immediately, to ensure that both conditions at Moria are improved dramatically, and that these men, women, children have the mental health support that they so desperately need.

The IRC’s briefing outlines practical recommendations for the Greek government, EU leaders and both public and private donors to urgently improve mental health support for asylum seekers.

The International Rescue Committee’s Greece country director, Jana Frey says: 

“While we welcome the Greek government’s efforts this weekend to start to decongest Moria, this effort must be sustained. We need a long-term strategy that ensures we never again see conditions like this at Moria. They cannot be similar to the attempts we have seen to-date, which have been spasmodic at best.”

The International Rescue Committee’s lead psychologist on Lesbos, Kiki Michailidou says:

“That sixty percent of our clients have considered suicide is a somber reflection of the mental health needs at Moria. IRC psychologists are merely chipping away at an iceberg. Too many have lost loved ones because of conflict. Children have witnessed things children should never see. They need to be assured of proper care when they arrive to Europe, and that includes psychological support something which is, right now, seriously lacking at Moria, and is putting people’s lives at increased risk.”

The International Rescue Committee’s head of advocacy in Brussels, Imogen Sudbery says: 

“As EU leaders consider so-called “control centres” across Europe, conditions on the Greek islands must give them pause. The focus right now must be on ways to ensure greater, more effective responsibility sharing across the EU for those who continue to arrive, not just to Greece but to Spain and Italy as well. Other member states must urgently step up and agree to support these countries. It is short-sighted, ineffective, and counterproductive to believe that these countries can carry all of the responsibility on their own. 

“Conditions on the islands must also put into question the proposed disembarkation platforms in North Africa. If Europe struggles to enforce humanitarian standards in migration centers on its own shores, what hope do they realistically have of getting it right overseas?”