Greece: Insufficient access to services for asylum seekers with disabilities

January 18, 2017

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According to Human Rights Watch, asylum seekers with disabilities are not properly identified and do not enjoy equal access to services in reception centres in Greece. The Greek government is operating several reception centres and refugee camps on the Aegean islands and the mainland. Asylum seekers and other migrants with disabilities have particular difficulties getting basic services in these facilities, such as shelter, sanitation, and medical care.

“People with disabilities are being overlooked in getting basic services, even though they are among the refugees and migrants most at-risk,” said Shantha Rau Barriga, disability rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Greek authorities, the EU, the UN, and aid organizations should make sure that people with disabilities are no longer an afterthought.”

Over 62,000 asylum seekers who have been stranded in Greece after the closing of the borders of the EU, are living in deplorable and volatile conditions, Human Rights Watch states. “Thousands of refugees are enduring extremely harsh winter conditions in flimsy tents across Greece with temperatures as low as -14 degrees Celsius. Those with disabilities are among those at particular risk.”

Some of the problems identified are:

Access to water and sanitation – Only two of the fifteen camps of which Human Rights Watch has direct knowledge has ramps to the toilets, but uneven, rocky terrain and long distances prevented some people with disabilities from reaching these “accessible” toilets. The outdoor taps and showers in camps that Human Rights Watch visited were also not accessible for people who use a wheelchair. In one case, an older woman who uses a wheelchair had not taken a shower for a month.

Lack of adequate medical services – People with disabilities often struggle to get medical treatment or specialized care. Those interviewed described prolonged delays in seeing a primary care physician in the camp, high transport costs to local hospitals, administrative barriers, lack of information, and general lack of availability of specialized services, including rehabilitation centers. 

Mental health and psychosocial support – Human Rights Watch found a lack of access to adequate and appropriate mental health care across the camps in Greece. Nearly all refugees and asylum seekers interviewed reported having headaches, losing sleep and appetite, and feeling depressed. Children had regressed to bed-wetting. Only three of 20 people interviewed who reported being in urgent need of psychosocial support could get it. Eleni Perraki, a psychologist with the humanitarian organization Doctors of the World (MdM), working in Lagkadikia camp in the Thessaloniki region, said: “We see many people with post-traumatic stress disorder, people who are traumatized, stressed […] Some mental health conditions are the result of nothing else but daily life in the camp.”

Identification – Asylum seekers with disabilities are not properly identified in Greece, in part because of a rushed registration process and the need for better guidance for staff. Without adequate training, it is difficult for reception staff to identify those with disabilities that are not easily identifiable, such as intellectual disabilities or mental health conditions. And without an adequate understanding of the scale and needs, aid agencies cannot respond effectively. 

Not doing enough

Human Rights Watch is advocating for:

  • proper allocaton of funding for better basic services, including accessible toilets and bathrooms, as well as medical care;
  • equal access to assistance for people with disabilities in centres and camps; 
  • clear guidance to field staff on identifying and registering people with disabilities;
  • providing prefabricated housing units with heating and hot water to everyone currently living in tents, prioritizing people with disabilities and other at-risk groups such as pregnant women, children, and older people.

The organization is not only blaming the Greek government for not doing enough: “According to the UN, people with disabilities make up one-seventh of the world’s population, yet the UN and others have overlooked people with disabilities when it comes to responding to humanitarian crises. […] The dire situation for asylum seekers and migrants with disabilities in Greece is a wake-up call for the UN and the EU to start taking the issue more seriously.”

Read the full article (Human Rights Watch website)