UPDATE: Crossing Borders - Our Response to the Refugee Crisis - Doctors of the World

UPDATE: Crossing Borders – Our Response to the Refugee Crisis

An Update on the Migrant and Refugee Crisis


Europe is currently experiencing the largest mass migration of people since the Second World War. Yet, an organized, unilateral response to the migrant crisis is noticeably lacking. The majority of migrants and refugees are arriving from Syria, fleeing the civil war that has ravaged the country since 2011. Thousands more have arrived from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Eritrea. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has estimated that more than 750,000 people have entered Europe’s borders in 2015 so far.

The recent attacks in Paris have renewed calls by some governments and political parties to tighten borders, or to reject migrants and refugees altogether. In Poland, the newly elected government has recently refused to accept more migrants and is calling for revisions to migrant and refugee policies in the wake of the Paris attacks, all while rejecting migrant quotas established by the EU. In the Czech Republic, finance minister Andrej Babis called for the closing of the EU’s external Schengen borders. In short, migrants and refugees have become increasingly vulnerable due to rising xenophobia in various EU member states.

Médecins du Monde (MdM)/Doctors of the World has been caring for Syrian migrants and refugees since the early days of the conflict. In addition, our teams in Greece have been working tirelessly on the front lines of this latest humanitarian crisis. But our work, like the migrants and refugees themselves, crosses many borders.

Below is an update on MdM’s work to-date to aid migrants and refugees – from the Middle East, throughout the Mediterranean, and across Europe.


In Belgium, MdM established an intake site staffed by doctors, nurses, psychologists and interpreters within walking distance of the main migrant and refugee registration area. For the last two months, the Belgian government has been unable to process more than 250 asylum applications per day. As a result, as many as 1,000 families slept outside each night without access to water, food, or shelter. Coupled with media pressure, a coalition of civil society organizations – including MdM – successfully persuaded the Belgian government to provide nightly shelters.

However, the health and social service needs of the migrants and refugees remained largely unmet. In response, MdM set up an office for civil society actors to provide services during the day. The space is open to everyone, including undocumented migrants and refugees, and MdM staff (including a doctor, two nurses, a psychologist and an interpreter) see approximately 40 patients per day.


One of our MdM assessment teams has been meeting with refugees and migrants in Dimitrovgrad, on the Bulgarian border with Macedonia. They have found that as many as 400 people per day walk to Bulgaria from Afghanistan via Iran and Turkey, thinking the route is the safest and cheapest. However, many encounter difficulty crossing the Iranian desert, and the Bulgarian and Turkish police forces can be violent. For example, there have been reports of Bulgarian police exploiting, beating and opening fire on those trying to cross the border from Turkey.


MdM is providing care to migrants and refugees at Croatia’s Bapska border-crossing with Serbia. By the end of September, 90,000 people had crossed into Croatia. Our team has been treating migrants and refugees with a variety of conditions resulting from their journeys, such as pneumonia, injuries, respiratory infections and dehydration. Chaos also erupted on the Slovenian-Croatian border on October 17 when several buses carrying migrants and refugees were held and temporarily prevented from crossing into Croatia.

France – Calais

The number of migrants and refugees in the Calais camp has climbed from 3,000 to 6,500 in the last few months. In response, MdM has increased the team from 7 to 10 staff members, who report that people are arriving with increasingly complex traumas – both physical and psychological in nature.

Between October 19 – 23, MdM provided 338 medical consultations, 126 nursing consultations and 51 physiotherapy sessions, in addition to providing psychological support to those who have experienced violence during their time at the camp.

On October 26, MdM, Secours Catholique (Caritas) and other NGOs appealed to the French court to implement emergency measures to protect the fundamental human rights of the migrants and refugees in the camp. In response to the complaint, the court ordered the Lille government (whose administration Calais is under) to organize trash collection, to create 10 additional water points and to install 50 new bathrooms. Although a victory for MdM and NGO Secours Catholique, there has been little progress on creating substantial housing for the migrants and refugees in the camp.

In addition, tensions in the camp remain high and MdM is continuing to collect statements from the migrants and refugees as to the violence they have experienced at the hands of local police or between migrant communities.

French-Italian Border

One of our MdM mobile units was active in the city of Vintimille on the French-Italian border, conducting as many as 654 consultations per visit. However, on September 30, the residents of the border camp were forcibly removed by the local police and the border was closed.


It is estimated that 1.5 million refugees and migrants will arrive in Germany between October and December 2015. As of November 1, The Asylum Seekers Benefits Act was amended to make it quicker and easier to deport rejected asylum seekers, putting thousands at risk of deportation in the coming months.

In late October, police began controlling the influx of migrants and refugees at the German-Austrian border (Simbach, Germany – Braunau, Austria). They allow people to cross the border only when sufficient space opens in the camp at Simbach on the German side. There is also a number of people attempting to cross the border from Salzburg (Austria) into Freilassing (Germany).

In Munich, MdM is continuing to provide basic medical care and social counseling at the central bus station, treating approximately 50 people per day. The team also assists people with obtaining prescriptions for medicine and referrals for future treatment.


In Greece, our MdM teams continue to see a huge influx of migrants and refugees on the Greek Islands.

In Lesbos, the team has been carrying out medical consultations for migrants and refugees arriving from Turkey. During the last two weeks of October, 49,000 people arrived on the island and MdM provided 2,355 consultations. On average, our team performs 150 – 400 daily consultations – effectively reaching 10% of the migrant and refugee population in Lesbos.

6,867 migrants and refugees arrived during the same period in Chios, where the MdM team provided 1,193 medical and social counseling consultations.

MdM has also been active in the transit area of Idomeni on the Greek border with Macedonia, where the number of arrivals has increased to as many as 7,000 – 10,000 per day. Up to 23 MdM doctors, nurses, pharmacists and logisticians provide medical attention to as many as 400 people per day in Idomeni, reaching around 4% of refugees and migrants who are in transit.

In Athens and the surrounding areas, our team runs several clinics and mobile programs that deliver primary medical care and medication to over 3,000 migrants and refugees. Our 6th clinic is set to open this month.

For more on the migrant and refugee crisis in Greece, see this MdM video.


In three months alone, our MdM team in Iraq has provided 25,122 consultations in the Chamisku and Dawodia camps. We have also provided mental health counseling for 644 people and nutritional screening for 1,693 children. There is a proliferation of respiratory tract, urinary tract, and skin infections in the camps.


The Mediterranean Sea is the most dangerous route for migrants and refugees trying to reach Europe. Approximately 23,000 migrants and refugees have lost their lives on this route since 2000 – and since the beginning of 2015, more than 3,000 people have died in the Mediterranean. A partnership has been created between SOS Méditerranée and MdM to provide medical care and psychological support for those rescued at sea.


In May 2015, our team in Jordan launched a mobile clinic in the rural area of Ramtha focusing on Syrian refugees and vulnerable Jordanians. In just 90 days, the team has carried out 28,496 primary healthcare consultations, including 2,666 sexual and reproductive health consultations and 1,619 mental health consultations.


At 1.17 million, refugees in Lebanon comprise over 25% of the total population. From April to June of this year, MdM conducted 26,345 consultations for women and children. These included 4,906 sexual and reproductive health consultations.


In the wake of the Paris attacks, Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov called a Security Council meeting on November 14. There have been reports that government officials in Macedonia have begun clearing land at the Greek-Macedonian border in order to erect a wire fence to restrict the flow of migrants and refugees into the country.

Although we have limited access to Macedonia, MdM is planning to launch a response that will provide direct medical care, and hygiene and winter kits to the migrants and refugees, as well as supporting national health facilities that provide care to migrants and refugees.


Earlier this fall, Amsterdam’s city council asked MdM to assist at three different emergency shelter locations housing approximately 1,500 migrants. MdM is also working with the Dutch Red Cross in two emergency centers: Ter Apel and Heumensoord. In Ter Apel, the reception centre holds 500 people waiting to apply for asylum. In Heumensoord, a tented camp, there are currently 2,200 migrants and refugees, though our team estimates the camp will soon reach 3,000.


Serbia is one of the most important transit countries for migrants and refugees traveling through Europe. Our team estimates that roughly 50,000 people arrive in Serbia every week. As a result, MdM is preparing to launch an emergency response in the country. The assessment team has also documented accounts of discrimination and violence against the migrants and refugees in Serbia.


An estimated 6,000 refugees and migrants, mostly from Syria, arrived in Spain between January and September of 2015. Most enter at the port towns of Ceuta and Melilla and plan to continue on to Germany. On the Moroccan border, police are making it increasingly difficult for Sub-Saharan African migrants and refugees to cross the border to Spain, making them particularly vulnerable to exploitation by local trafficking networks. Our MdM team in Spain is coordinating with local and regional authorities and other NGOs toto launch an emergency response.


Since September, over 50,000 people have asked for asylum in Sweden and 28,000 unaccompanied minors have been identified. In addition, there has been a sharp rise in discrimination and violence against migrants and refugees in recent months. As a result, many are instead traveling to Finland and Norway. However, the MdM mobile team is operating 5 days a week and is focused on providing care at the recently opened shelters.


In Switzerland, the number of migrants in the country has increased by 15% since June, taxing the public resources of this small nation. Our team has been helping to fill the gaps by providing medical care to the migrants and refugees.


In Syria, MdM is active in Aleppo, Idlib and Der’a. From April to June of this year, our team treated 116,997 patients in 25 MdM supported health facilities. They provided an additional 35,026 consultations in 9 MdM stand-alone facilities.


In a 3-month period, the MdM team in Turkey treated 6,144 patients in the Syrian border town of Reyhanli. MdM also cared for a total of 7,283 Iraqi refugees in clinics in Diyarbakir, Batman and Sirnak.

United Kingdom

In the UK, our London-based clinic provides medical care, information and support to vulnerable migrants and refugees on their arrival to the UK. Many of the newly-arrived are coming from the camp in Calais, France, where we were the first medical organization on the ground.