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FILE PHOTO: A Pakistani migrant threatens to hang himself from a utility pole during a demonstration inside the Moria registration centre on the Greek island of Lesbos, April 6, 2016. REUTERS/Giorgos Moutafis/File Photo(reuters_tickers)
By Karolina Tagaris
ATHENS (Reuters) - A mental health emergency is unfolding in migrant camps on Greece's islands, fuelled by poor living conditions, neglect and violence, charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Tuesday.
Medical staff have seen a sharp increase in people trying to get help after attempting suicide, harming themselves or suffering psychotic episodes, it said in a report.
More than 13,000 migrants and refugees, mostly Syrians and Iraqis fleeing years of war, are living in five camps on Greek islands close to Turkey, government figures show.
Four of those camps are holding two to three times as many people as they were designed for.
"Every day our teams treat patients who tell us that they would prefer to have died in their country than be trapped here," said Jayne Grimes, manager of MSF's mental health activities on the island of Samos.
The charity said six or seven new patients had visited its clinic on the nearby island of Lesbos each week over the summer following suicide attempts, self-harm or psychotic episodes, 50 percent more than the previous three months.
Violence which many experienced on the journey or in Greece was one factor aggravating mental distress, MSF said.
"I know I need to find hope, but when the night falls and I see where I am, I feel like I'm going crazy," it quoted a Syrian man as saying.
The 25-year-old said he was haunted by the images of people dying of hunger in front of him in the long-besieged town of Madaya. "I still remember the taste of the leaves and the smell of death," he said.
On Samos, more than 3,000 people are crammed into facilities designed to hold 700, and about 400 live in the woods. In one Lesbos camp, about 1,500 people are in makeshift shelters or tents without flooring or heating, the U.N. refugee agency says.
In August, MSF found nearly three-quarters of new mental health patients on Lesbos needed to be referred to a psychiatrist, up from just over a third in the nine months from October 2016 to June 2017.
The report quoted a 41-year-old man, who said he had been tortured in a Syrian prison. When he visited a Lesbos hospital, he said he was told he would have to wait eight months to see a psychiatrist. "When I heard that, I felt like dying," he said.
A 29-year-old Syrian woman, on Lesbos with her family, told the MSF researchers the uncertainty over the future was "crushing us. It is killing us inside."
While the number of arrivals to Greece has slowed significantly since a European Union deal with Turkey to block the route in March last year, a recent sharp rise in arrivals has put pressure on government-run facilities.
(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Andrew Heavens)