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Yet another shipwreck in the Sicilian Channel

· Doctors Without Borders draws attention to the psychological trauma of those who have survived the journeys of hope ·

At least 20 migrants drowned in the Sicilian Channel. They lost their lives before the arrival of the Siem Pilot, the Norwegian ship that rescued the other passengers who were traveling on a damaged boat. There were 366 survivors. Meanwhile, the organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is drawing attention to the psychological trauma experienced by migrants.

The survivors of the recent shipwreck are of sub-Saharan, Eritrean, Ethiopian and Nigerian nationalities. Among them are 259 men, 82 women and 25 minors. Only two weeks before there had been another shipwreck that claimed the lives of 10 women.

These voyages, which have forced people into inhumane conditions, have caused not only death but also many problems for those who survive. In the stories of migrants who make it, far too often there is trauma and mental distress, which MSF defines an “increasingly worrisome” phenomenon that is “severely underestimated”. The conditions of reception in Italy do not help and sometimes worsen the situation. An MSF report entitled “Trauma Ignored” is based on data collected in various holding centres (CAS) in Rome, Trapani, Ragusa and Milan, between July 2015 and February 2016. The report shows that 60 percent of those interviewed – as part of the psychological support activities of MSF – showed symptoms of mental distress related to traumatic events suffered before or during their migratory journey. In particular, among the 199 patients who are directly cared for at CAS facilities in Ragusa, 42 percent exhibit disturbances compatible with post traumatic stress disorder, followed by 27 percent who are suffering from anxiety disorders.

Based on an analysis of needs and of existing services, MSF, which has been providing medical and psychological support in primary and secondary holding centres in Italy, calls on Italian and European authorities to adopt “a system of reception that takes care of the specific needs related to mental health for this population that is particularly vulnerable”. Silvia Mancini, an expert in public health for MSF and the editor of the report, points out that “asylum seekers find themselves staying in structures that are often in particularly isolated areas, where they remain for long periods of time in a state of increasing anxiety and worry”.

Looking at another scenario of the complex situation of migrants, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed concern “about further restrictions by Hungary”. The new legislation has extended border controls to an area of 8 km in Hungarian territory, and authorized police to intercept people within this area and send them back to the other side of the fence. The UNHCR stresses that the areas to which these people are sent are often “remote areas without adequate services”, and asks for investigations regarding allegations of abuse.

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