Greece denies healthcare to severely sick refugee children in Lesvos

24 Jan 2020

In Moria camp, on the island of Lesvos, the Greek government is deliberately depriving at least 140 children with chronic, complex and life-threatening diseases of adequate medical care. Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is calling on the Greek government to act on these grave medical concerns and evacuate all severely ill children to the Greek mainland or other EU member states, where they can receive appropriate medical care. 

Greece denies healthcare to severely sick refugee children in Lesvos

Zahra is just 6 years old and she is suffering from autism and mental issues. She is living with her parents in Moria in a small compartment within a shared room with no regular electricity or privacy. Toilets and water taps are shared. In the island there is no specialized care that Zahra needs for her condition to be improved while the living conditions are affecting her wellbeing. © Anna Pantelia / MSF

MSF calls for the:

  • Immediate evacuation from Lesvos of all people suffering from chronic and complex conditions, prioritising children by establishing a system of regular transfer, to appropriate accommodation near providers of specialised medical care.
  • Urgent and immediate provision of access to free, timely and adequate healthcare for all asylum seekers, unaccompanied minors and undocumented people in Greece.
  • End of the system of containment of refugees and asylum seekers in horrific and inhumane conditions on Lesvos.

“We see many children suffering from medical conditions, such as diabetes, asthma and heart disease, who are forced to live in tents, in abysmal, unhygienic conditions, with no access to the specialised medical care and medication they need. MSF is in discussions with the Greek authorities in order to transfer children to the mainland for urgent medical care, but despite the fact that some children were screened, none have been transferred yet.  The government’s general unwillingness to find a swift, systemic solution for these children, including some babies, is outrageous – it harms their health and could lead to life-long consequences or even death.” 

Dr Hilde Vochten
MSF’s medical coordinator in Greece

In July 2019, the Greek government revoked access to public healthcare for asylum seekers and undocumented people arriving in Greece, leaving more than 55,000 people without medical care.

Since March 2019, doctors in MSF’s paediatric health centre outside Moria camp on Lesvos have seen more than 270 cases of children suffering from chronic and complex illnesses, such as heart disease, epilepsy and diabetes. These require specialised treatment, which the MSF health centre is not equipped to provide. The local public hospital on Lesvos is also incapable of providing care for this additional number of patients and some specialised services are not available.

"My daughter, Zahra, is suffering from autism and we live a tiny space with almost no electricity. Often in the middle of the night she has seizures and there is no one to help us. I just want to be in a space where my daughter can play like other children and be treated by a good doctor," says Shamseyeh from Afghanistan, who lives in Moria camp.

For the last four years, MSF has repeatedly denounced Moria camp as a human tragedy driven by government policies. This situation makes it clear, once again, that the migration policies generated by the EU-Turkey deal of 2016 are creating unnecessary suffering and putting many lives in danger.

Greece denies healthcare to severely sick refugee children in Lesvos

“My son, Mohammed, is almost 3 years old and is suffering from brain disorders. Due to the disease he is having constant headaches and he doesn’t talk much… we try to make him talk but whenever he tries he mumbles. At the moment we live in a tent in the olive grove without electricity and heating. The toilets and the showers are far and there is no warm for bathing him so I only wash him once every two weeks. The doctor suggest us to keep good hygiene but it’s impossible. We try to keep our tent clean but when it rains there is mud everywhere. As a mother, I don’t even care about myself, I only care about my children. When Mohammed complains about the headaches he has due to the disease I know I can do nothing to help him, I only cry. We are here 3-5 months and all the doctors who saw Mohammed here say that he really need to be transferred to mainland in order to receive care for his disease but are still here in Moria”. Gul, from Afghanistan, mother of 2 living in the Olive Groove in Moria. © Anna Pantelia / MSF

“Children, women and men are paying the unjust price of migration policies based on deterrence. Denying children suffering from serious diseases access to healthcare is just the latest cynical move, and it is truly beyond belief,” says Tommaso Santo, MSF head of mission of in Greece.


MSF has been providing medical and humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers and migrants in Greece since 1996. In 2014, MSF expanded its activities in Greece to meet the needs of an increasing number of asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants arriving on the Greek islands and mainland from Turkey. Since 2016, MSF medical teams in Greece have provided services including basic healthcare, treatment for chronic diseases, sexual and reproductive healthcare, physiotherapy, clinical psychological care and psychiatric care, along with a comprehensive social support package. Today, MSF teams work on the islands of Lesvos, Samos and in central Athens.