This week the NPO Human Rights Watch (HRW) made statements criticizing the Greek authorities and bureaucracy in place that is responsible for detaining refugee children with mental and physical illnesses in the Aegean islands’ camps, with no access to proper medical care.
“No child’s health should be left to deteriorate because of deliberate obstruction of access to health care,” said Bill Van Esveld, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Greek authorities are prioritizing deterring asylum seekers from coming to Europe over their duty to make sure children get the medical care they need.”
The process for approving refugees who are new arrivals from Turkey to be transferred to the mainland from the islands for medical care is that they are first assessed by authorities at the Greek Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
If it is concluded by the staff that the refugee has an urgent medical condition that needs treatment not available on the islands, the Greek police can recommend a transfer to the mainland for further medical treatment.
This current policy in place by Greece to approve refugees to be transferred to the mainland for medical treatment is backed by the EU, however, HRW claims that there is a flaw in the system and that children in need of urgent medical attention are being forced to wait on the islands for too long a period while their case is being reviewed by authorities.
There are even claims that no action was taken at all in cases where a child was sick and in need of medical care.
This puts the family with the sick child in the situation where they must then request an interview with the European Asylum Support Office or the Greek asylum authorities’ Regional Asylum Office. Waiting for the appointment for their interview can mean waiting as long as until April 2019, HRW says, according to a lawyer supporting asylum cases on the island of Lesbos.
“In one case reviewed, of an Afghan family that arrived in November 2017, the father, who had been tortured by the Taliban, was given a “medium vulnerability” assessment, which was applied to the whole family. But their 16-year-old son, who had been injured when an unexploded hand grenade detonated in his school a year ago, with shrapnel piercing his throat, and saw two classmates die, was not assessed,” HRW says.
“His father said he has insomnia, nightmares, unpredictable aggression, and loss of consciousness, has repeatedly injured himself requiring hospitalization, and has wandered out of his camp at night,” HRW explained.
“Child psychologists on the islands twice referred him for pediatric psychiatric treatment on the mainland, and a hospital on the islands submitted a statement in February that the treatment is not available on the islands.”
In May 2018, although aware of the boy’s initial medical assessment, the family’s restrictions to the islands were renewed by the Greek authorities — meaning they can not get their child the medical care he needs. Now they must wait until they have an interview with the Greek Asylum Service and their case is looked at again.
The overcrowded hotspots on the Aegean islands are housing some 14,500 people as of mid July 2018, even though they were constructed to house a capacity of 6,300. Of the 14,500 refugees, 30 percent are children.