© Alessandro Penso


More than 50,000 migrants and refugees from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq arrived in Greece in 2018.*

MSF's response to coronavirus in Greece

17 March 2020

From what we know, there has not been a confirmed case of COVID-19 among asylum seekers trapped on the Greek islands.

However, asylum seekers in camps such as Moria are very vulnerable to an outbreak of the new coronavirus as they are forced to live in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions that facilitate the spread of disease.

The Greek Government is yet to announce measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in camps on the islands. MSF is in contact with the National Public Health Organisation in order to coordinate actions, including health information and case management, but we need to be realistic: there is no way we can contain the virus in a humane and dignified way in such camp settings.

Our priority will be always the safety and the security of our patients and our staff, and we are determined to keep our clinics in Samos, Lesbos and Athens as operational as possible. At the same time, we have increased call for the camps to be evacuated in light of the global pandemic.

learn more about covid-19 >


Located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa, Greece is a major entry point for refugees and migrants making the journey to Europe.

Until March 2016, thousands of people fleeing war and persecution were arriving on Greek islands every day before continuing their journeys across Europe.

However, the closure of the Balkan route and the EU deal with Turkey in March left migrants and refugees stranded, without access to basic services, adequate shelter or information on their legal status.

Prior to the current refugee crisis, six straight years of recession beginning in 2008 reduced Greece's economy by about a quarter of its previous size and drove unemployment to record levels.

Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) first worked in Greece in 1991 providing healthcare for people otherwise excluded.

Today, our attention is focused towards Greece’s Dodecanese islands – the islands where many refugees first make land in desperate conditions – and on the border with North Macedonia.

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MSF's work in Greece: 2018

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) continued to provide medical and mental healthcare to migrants on the Greek islands and the mainland. Between January and December 2018, our teams conducted around 26,500 outpatient consultations across Greece and vaccinated around 4,500 children against the most common childhood diseases.

Greek islands

Since the so-called EU-Turkey deal in March 2016, migrants and refugees who were in transit through the Greek islands have been trapped, waiting for their status to be determined. Consequently, they spend long periods in inadequate reception centres, with poor access to healthcare and the fear of being sent back to Turkey, which exacerbates their medical and mental health problems. We continued to denounce this deal and its dramatic impact on the health of men, women and children trapped on the islands in 2018.

© Guglielmo Mangiapane
Since 2016, we have been running a clinic on Lesbos offering primary healthcare, sexual and reproductive health services and mental health support. In late 2017, we set up an additional clinic outside Moria reception centre, providing the same services for children under 16, pregnant women and victims of sexual violence. We also have a team in Mytilene town treating patients with severe mental health conditions caused by trauma and violence in their country of origin or on their journey to Greece. Many of our patients, including minors, reported that the insecure and inhumane conditions in Moria itself played a major part in pushing them towards despair, self-harm or suicidal thoughts.

On Chios, we provide primary healthcare, sexual and reproductive healthcare, mental health support and social care for refugees and migrants. We have cultural mediators and social workers in the hospital on the island, and in April started running travel medicine services to guarantee healthcare continuity for patients in transit, including health advice, vaccinations, medication and referrals to MSF services in Athens.

Until April, we also provided mental healthcare, health promotion and temporary shelter for people in the town of Vathy, on the island of Samos, which hosts mostly women, children and patients requiring urgent medical treatment on the mainland.


We run two clinics in Athens to respond to the specific needs of migrants and refugees.

At our ‘day care centre’, teams provide sexual and reproductive healthcare, mental health support, social care and treatment for chronic diseases.

In our second centre, run in collaboration with Day Centre Babel and the Greek Council for Refugees, we offer comprehensive care to victims of torture, ill-treatment and other forms of degrading treatment. The clinic’s multidisciplinary approach comprises medical and mental healthcare, physiotherapy, social assistance and legal support.

Northern Greece

In response to the huge increase in arrivals (more than 18,000 in 2018 compared with around 6,500 in 2017), and the absolute lack of healthcare provision by the Ministry of Health, in July we sent a team to work in the reception and identification centre in Fylakio, in Evros region, on the border with Turkey, until the end of the year. We provided general healthcare consultations, sexual and reproductive health and travel medicine consultations.

*UNHCR Operational Portal, Mediterranean Situation


 find out more in our international activity report >  

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