SOCIETY

Detention takes toll on inmates awaiting deportation, doctors warn

A high number of inmates awaiting deportation at a former army camp in Amygdaleza, northwest of the capital, who were arrested by police after failing to display proper residence and work papers, as well as those held at the Aliens Bureau on Petrou Ralli Street in Athens as they undergo processing, are suffering from dermatological and psychological problems, according to a report published recently by the nongovernmental organization Iatriki Paremvasi (Medical Intervention), which provides free healthcare and psychological support to migrant inmates.

In the period between September 2012 and March 2013, the doctors who volunteer with the group saw 1,090 patients at Amygdaleza over a series of skin complaints, half of which were treated for psoriasis, a disease that is often exacerbated by stress. The doctors also noted outbreaks of various forms of dermatitis, and fungal and bacterial infections, which are either brought on or exacerbated by poor sanitation conditions and acute stress.

According to the coordinator of the program, Elpida Efthymiatou, doctors saw a marked spike in the number of patients they received following police raids on illegal squats being used by migrants in central Athens.

“People arrested during these operations and then sent to the Amygdaleza facility suffered from a variety of skin conditions, though mostly psoriasis. We were gradually able to treat most of the patients,” Efthymiatou said.

The project coordinator said that the Iatriki Parmevasi staff also received requests for support from a total of 163 inmates: Sixty-three were experiencing acute anxiety, 35 were suffering from depression, 21 were in a distressed state and 10 claimed to have been victims of physical violence.

Efthymiatou said that other frequent complaints concern viral infections, muscular or joint pain and respiratory infections, though she added that these are not – at least not directly – related to the holding conditions at the Amygdaleza detention center or the Petrou Ralli facility.

Of the 985 patients seen at the Aliens Bureau by the NGO’s doctors, 330 had viral infections (mostly flu), 264 received treatment for respiratory infections (mostly bronchitis and pneumonia) and 206 were suffering from pain in their knees and lower backs.

According to Efthymiatou, such complaints are normally related to seasonal illnesses such as the flu, or to the work, usually manual labor, that the inmates were doing before their arrest.

Most cases of what the doctors call “special” infections were reported at the Aliens Bureau in Athens, where doctors saw a total of 17 patients with hepatitis while a few were found to be HIV positive. Patients suffering from these illnesses were mostly habitual drug users, which according to estimates account for 5-6 percent of the total inmate population at both facilities.

The reports by Iatriki Paremvasi also presented some interesting demographic data, such as the fact that 7 percent of the men who were processed by the Aliens Bureau are university educated and that the number is more than double among the women at 15 percent.

The nongovernmental group is funded by the Ministry of Labor with funds from the European Commission’s Refugee Fund.