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Refugees Spend Another Winter In Squalid Camp On Greek Island Of Lesbos


On the Greek island of Lesbos, refugees are spending another winter in a squalid, overcrowded camp. They fled war in places like Syria and Afghanistan, seeking safety in the West. And among them are thousands of traumatized children. We spoke to Marco Sandrone from Doctors Without Borders, which treats children from the camp. He's based in Lesbos. And we should warn you his account might disturb some listeners.

MARCO SANDRONE: The camp is a ex-military base equipped to host maximum 3,000 people. And today, there are more than 18,000 people living there. Among them, 6,000 to 7,000 are children - so are minors. Here, it's December, winter. These families, these children are living most of the time in summer tents in mud with extremely weak access to any kind of services. Food is lacking. Toilets and shower facilities are not enough for the population. And the overall response and the medical services are also inadequate to cope with the medical needs of this population.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, tell me, what are you seeing with the children? What kind of conditions are they facing?

SANDRONE: So we are a primary health care clinic. And normally, we are supposed to serve basic medical needs, such as a flu, a rash skin, diarrhea. But today, we are seeing more and more complex disease that needs second-line medical treatments, such as epilepsy, diabetes, congenital malformation, cancer. The condition of these children is bound to deteriorate if they are not moved immediately to mainland or to any other European countries that can help them with the medical treatment they deserve.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We've been hearing reports of increasing incidents, also, of self-harm among the children there, that their psychological condition is also deteriorating. Can you tell us what you've seen?

SANDRONE: Yeah, the overall depressive atmosphere that is influencing and traumatizing the people living in the camp is, of course, damaging. Especially the children - they feel helpless, isolated. Most of them - they have disturbing sleep. They wake up at night screaming, manifesting the traumas that they're carrying within themself from their country of origins. And today, the dire condition they are bound to live - reaching cases of self-harming and attempted suicide, as well, amongst minors.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You've seen attempted suicides.

SANDRONE: This is something that we have seen regularly and recently at 13 years - boys, as well, tried to commit suicide. This is something that we are seeing more and more. People coming from Afghanistan, from Syria that already experienced extremely traumatic events, and somehow they coped with it, reaching Europe, still having a little bit of hope of a better future. But today, what they see here in moria (ph), what they are experiencing here in moria is a total loss of this little drop of hope that brought them here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What would you like to see happen? What has been the response from Greece and from the EU more broadly?

SANDRONE: The response that we are - seen today's absolutely inadequate. It is always a short-term emergency response to face long-term phenomenon, which is the migration that is bringing these people that are fleeing their countries, their war zone to reach a better place. What we are asking this month, this year is that European politicians and Greek government stop being irresponsible and try to be courage and brave and stop to put the political interests before the needs of these people.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Macro Sandrone is a field coordinator with Doctors Without Borders based in Lesbos.

Thank you so much.

SANDRONE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.