Anxiety is High Among Syrian Refugees at Idomeni Camp in Greece
Devastating news was recently published about refugees at the Greek Idomeni Camp: two refugees attempted self-immolation, dousing their clothing in flammable liquid and setting fire to themselves. The fire was immediately put out by people nearby, but both refugees were hospitalized with serious burns.
Greece’s Interior Minister, Panagiotis Kouroublis, recently visited the camp, comparing conditions for refugees to Nazi concentration camps of World War II. The camp was planned to be used by around 2,500 people but it is currently ‘home’ to approximately 12,000 refugees, who have been forced to reside in cold, rainy, muddy conditions. Said Kouroublis: “This is a modern Dachau, result of the logic of closed borders. We believed in a Europe of open borders… unfortunately, Europe today sees again the awakening of a peculiar nationalism against persecuted people. The logic cannot not stand when you know that there is a Europe of 580 million inhabitants, a Europe that refuses to absorb 1-1.5 million underprivileged people, who did not leave their countries by choice, but were forced to do so by the wars to which also Europe participated.”
The refugees, mostly hailing from Syria and Iraq, are hoping that a deal between the European Union and Turkish leaders will be struck, so that they can head for the countries they wish to settle in, including Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden. Few comprehend that the provisional agreement between the EU and Turkey involves the resettling of one Syrian refugee from Turkey in return for every refugee Turkey receives from Greece. Turkey has also proposed that all war refugees who cross the Aegean to head for Greece, be returned to Turkey, so that EU countries can accept asylum seekers directly from Turkey.
Unbearable levels of anxiety are caused by many factors, including disappointment – families have sacrificed their lives by crossing the sea, often with little children, and they are distressed to think that it could have been ‘all for nothing’.
An increased police presence is another trigger for greater trauma, with law enforcement noting high levels of anxiety and reporting a fear that reactions from refugees could be dramatic if they find out that they are not going to be taken to their chosen destinations. Police are also stopping refugees from selling food, which has caused greater desperation and discomfort.
Illness is another factor that is worrying refugees, with a respiratory infection spreading throughout the camp, threatening the lives of children. Food is also scarce; fights have occurred during the long waits for food and attention from Doctors Without Borders; the latter, meanwhile, are overwhelmed by understaffing and a lack of funds to provide the required sustenance for so many refugees.
Several Greek families have opened their homes to refugee families, after witnessing the appalling conditions of the camp – everywhere, they say, there is mud, dirt, and the sound of coughing and wheezing. Many families have been putting up with these conditions for various weeks. Many refugees have not been able to bathe for various weeks, and many women are sharing their personal stories of rape and sexual assault by smugglers. Some children have arrived alone, putting them at a great risk of abuse. The images speak for themselves: mothers and children crying, wrapped in filthy blankets, their heads covered in lice.
Those deciding the future of refugees should be aware of the many detrimental effects of waiting too long to make a decision that guarantees safety and support to so many families.
Refugees are not only aiming to find a new home; they are also struggling to come to terms with the reasons why they have had to leave their homes. Adjusting to a new country is in itself a stressful experience yet being left so long with no clear communication of one’s future is traumatic. Studies have shown that refugees can be prone to anxiety, depression, PTSD and even substance abuse as a means of coping with hostile social environments. Mental health is affected by the accumulated effects of trauma, and culturally sensitive assessment and mental health treatment is vital. Finding a solution that helps heal trauma and makes some sense to the thousands of refugees around the world, is therefore not only wise, but rather, a matter of life or death.