ONE YEAR AFTER EU-TURKEY DEAL: migrants paying the price with their health

Thursday, March 16, 2017 — ATHENS – One year after the EU-Turkey Deal, the international medical organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) released today a report to expose the human costs of European policy failures in Greece and the Balkans. MSF calls on the EU and member state leaders to radically change their approach to migration and ensure a swift end to the unnecessary suffering of the thousands caught in the consequences of the EU-Turkey deal.

The European Council stated that the deal, which rewards Turkey for “stemming the flow” of migrants and refugees and accepting those forcibly returned from Greek shores, would offer “migrants an alternative to putting their lives at risk”. One year after, men, women and children are trapped in unsafe zones outside of Europe: they are unable to flee, forced to use even more dangerous smuggling routes to reach Europe – they remain trapped in overcrowded “hotspots” on the Greek islands.

“The deal is having a direct impact on the health of our patients, and many are becoming more vulnerable,” says Jayne Grimes, MSF Psychologist on the Greek island, Samos. “These people have fled extreme violence, torture and war and survived extremely dangerous journeys. Today, their anxiety and depression is aggravated by the lack of information on their legal status and their poor living conditions. They are losing any hope that they will find a safer, better future than the one they fled. I often see people who contemplate suicide or self-mutilate.”

According to the report “One Year on From the EU-Turkey Deal: Challenging the EU’s Alternative Facts”, the MSF psychologists in Lesvos saw a 2.5 fold increase in the percentage of patients with symptoms of anxiety and depression, and a threefold increase in the percentage of patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Symptoms of psychosis also increased, all of which coincides with our teams seeing more patients with severe trauma, and more cases of self-harm and suicide attempts. Through the nearly 300 mental health consultations MSF teams in Samos have conducted, they have seen a similar deterioration and an escalation in self-harm and suicide attempts in recent months.

Along the Balkan route in Serbia and Hungary, MSF teams have seen an increase in patients reporting trauma linked to the violence they experience since the closure of the Balkan route a few days before the EU-Turkey deal.  In 2016 MSF decided to stop accepting funds from the EU and Member States in opposition to the EU-Turkey deal.

European leaders continue to believe that by building fences and punishing those who still try to cross them, they will deter others from fleeing for their lives,” says Aurelie Ponthieu, MSF Humanitarian Adviser on Displacement.  “Every day we treat the wounds, both physical and psychological, inflicted by these deterrence policies. Such measures have proven to be not only inhumane and unacceptable, but also completely ineffective,” concludes Ponthieu.

MSF reiterates that full respect of the right to seek asylum, opening of safe and legal alternatives for people to move such as resettlement, relocation, humanitarian visas, and family reunification, as well as work and study visas are the only humane solution to end death and suffering at Europe’s borders, on both land and sea.


MSF has been providing medical and humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers and migrants in Greece since 1996. In 2015, we launched an emergency response when thousands of people began to arrive each day on the Greek islands from Turkey with the aim of crossing the Balkans to reach northern Europe. MSF teams currently work in more than 20 locations across Greece, focusing mainly on mental healthcare, sexual and reproductive healthcare and treatment for patients with chronic diseases. 

In 2016, MSF medical teams in Greece carried out 72 740 health consultations, including: 8,207 mental health consultations, 3,195 sexual and reproductive health consultations, 61,338 medical consultations, covering primary health care, physiotherapy, treatment for chronic diseases and more.

MSF has worked in Serbia since late 2014, providing medical care and mental healthcare, and setting up shelters and water and sanitation facilities at the locations where people enter and leave the country, as well as in the capital, Belgrade. Since early 2016, our teams have been running a clinic and mobile clinic in Belgrade where they provide general healthcare and mental healthcare. Throughout 2016, MSF teams distributed essential relief items and lobbied for vulnerable people stranded in Serbia to have greater access to healthcare and adequate shelter and protection.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) South Africa

A man looks through the border fence into Macedonia (FYROM). Photographer: Alex Yallop
Inside a Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) accommodation tent at the transit camp in Idomeni, on the Greek - Macedonian (FYROM) border. Photographer: Alex Yallop
Since March 20, 2016, when the EU externalized its borders by striking a deal with Turkey, people fleeing war and persecution have faced extremely tough conditions on the Greek islands. Photographer: Mohammad Ghannam
Since March 20, 2016, when the EU externalized its borders by striking a deal with Turkey, people fleeing war and persecution have faced extremely tough conditions on the Greek islands.<br/><br/>MSF has tried to shed a light on the living conditions of asylum seekers in Samos. More than 1,100 people are living in the hotspot there, without sufficient information about their future. There are major delays in their processing, due to a lack of manpower to handle their applications. Photographer: Mohammad Ghannam
Since March 20, 2016, when the EU externalized its borders by striking a deal with Turkey, people fleeing war and persecution have faced extremely tough conditions on the Greek islands. My name is Masuod , and I am 20 years old. I was born in Afghanistan, though my parents took me to Pakistan in 2001. That’s where I spent most of my life, with my two brothers and four sisters. But in Pakistan too, we faced lot of problems with the Taliban, because we are Shia. The extremists think that if they kill Shia people, they will go to heaven. Photographer: Mohammad Ghannam
Seven Syrian families sleep together in this 42 sqaure meter tent provided by Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) to increase the commodation capacity of the transit camp at Idomeni, close to the Greek - FYROM border in Northern Greece. Photographer: Alex Yallop
Piraeus harbor. Since the beginning of March 2016, many countries on the 'Balkany road" have closed their border, putting a stop to thousands of refugees' exile in Greece. More than 5 000 of them turned Athens harbor into a camp. Photographer:  Guillaume Binet
Portrait of Abdul 40 years old from Bangladesh <br/><br/>He arrived in Lesvos in July 2016. He has been in Moira for 7 months. <br/><br/>He has suffered because of the worsening situation. He saw people lose their life in Moria. Now the asylum department rejected his asylum claim. Because of the EU Turkey deal he will be returned to Turkey.<br/><br/>“I’m really scared, I will not go to Turkey! They will put me in prison for two years, I will go back to my country, even my life is in danger there and all this situation torture my mind and life...and I’m the only one responsible for my big family…I have small kids and wife.” Photographer: MSF