Lesbos: when hell takes away children’s hope

There is a disease called resignation syndrome that has been first diagnosed in Sweden in the 1990s, it is essentially a dissociative syndrome that induces a catatonic state that affects refugee children who enter a state of coma after having lost hope as a result of traumatic events. This usually happens to young refugees who have been through many dangerous and bad situations in their country. When they flee to what they believe is a safe place and discover that there is still a danger to them and their families, they simply enter a state of depression and become socially withdrawn, increasingly immobile and speechless in response to stress and despair. 

Between 2003 and 2005, more than 400 migrant children were affected. Even today, several dozen children are diagnosed with the syndrome every year.

This state of coma can last for months or even years. Nevertheless, there is hope for a cure for these children. In some cases, signs of recovery begin to appear when the child feels a sense of security, for example as soon as the parents obtain a residence permit or the promise of a safe life. Returning to normal life can take up to a year, but the feeling of security is almost the only cure.

But then how, while these families flee the war or persecution to peaceful countries, do these children still feel the weight of insecurity until they lose all hope in life?

There is one case, in the Moria camp located on Lesbos Island. Her name is Ayesha. This 9 years old little girl recently entered the resignation syndrome and she is also the first case related to Lesbos. 

A journalist from The Guardian went to the island to understand the psychological effects of trauma within these children who have often fled violent conflict in their home countries, only to arrive at a squalid camp where conditions are chaotic and inhumane. “I quickly realize that Ayesha’s state embodies what can happen when a child loses all hope.”

At the age of 9, Ayesha witnessed far too many horrors, the death of her younger brother caused by the bombs in Afghanistan, a few meters from her, the conditions under which she joined Europe and many other things. However, it was in the Moria camp that the little girl lost all hope. She fell into a catatonic state when a teenager was stabbed to death near her tent. 

What about the EU migration policy?

When you have arrived at the territory of the European Union, you can feel lucky. Of course, if you flee the war, unemployment, starvation, you will feel lucky in the country of the European Union. That is true. But unfortunately, by the time you enter the European Union, a wonderful life is not waiting for you. In this new life, people who hope to improve their quality of life are faced with extremely harsh living conditions as refugees. 

Since the European Union countries have closed their borders due to a deal between the European Union and Turkey designed to curb the flow of migrants, the number of refugees on the Greek islands increased. But this is not a condition that occurred after the treaty between the European Union and Turkey. To understand this situation, it is necessary to look at a history of at least 30 years of European border policy.

The Treaty of Maastricht was signed in 1992 and the European Union regulated for the first time, defense and security matters. Then, The treaty of Amsterdam signed in 1997, made some progress with some modification for border security. However, the most important phase for the border policy of EU countries took place with the Dublin Regulation. According to this regulation, one of the EU Member State is responsible for the examination of an application for asylum. The member state of the first entry must deal with asylum procedures. 

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency, also known as Frontex, was established in 2005. Thereby, the EU coordinated cooperation between member states and neighboring countries in external border management. As a result, looking at the present situation of asylum seekers between Turkey and Greece, it is possible to see that the establishment of Frontex paved the way for asylum seekers to be returned from the Greek Islands to Turkey. 

After the refugees were imprisoned in these islands like an open-air-prison, their living conditions became more and more difficult and they cannot leave the island without permission. And the number of refugees arriving by boat on the islands is increasing every day. According to the latest weekly statistical data of the Aegean Boat Report (14-20 October), the total number of refugees that arrived on the Aegean islands is 2,214. 21% of the population of refugees comprises of women and 35% of children, of whom nearly 6 out of 10 are younger than 12 years old.


The most important and largest camp known for its poor living conditions in Moria on Lesbos island. In Moria camp, there are more than 8,300 people according to official numbers. This is already more than the capacity of the refugee camp. Because the Moria camp is built for a total of 3,100 people. In this camp, because of population density, many health and safety problems are a topical issue. 

Lesbos is one of the islands that host the most refugees. According to the statistical information of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, there are 18,545 total arrivals in Lesbos. Generally, most of them come from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. 

Medical experts say children should be removed from the Moria camp immediately and accommodated in a safe place. This is because the safety of children cannot be provided in this environment. And their psychosocial health is getting worse every day. Also, many children are physically losing their health due to increased harassment and violence on Lesbos. Officials who work with voluntary organizations mention that there has been a serious increase in suicide cases among children. 

Governments need to take immediate action to protect and improve the socio-psychological and physical health of thousands of people in refugee camps, particularly children. At this stage, European states need to change their migration policies. Any political decision in favor of refugees will save these people’s lives and their hopes for life.

* More information about resignation syndrome: “Life Overtakes Me” https://www.netflix.com/gr-en/title/81034980

Authors: Astrid VALLET & Gizem INAN

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Post Author: Gizem Inan

I am 26 years old and I come from Turkey. I am interested in social inequality, in particular referred to migrations and health inequalities.

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