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“[P]eople died in cold in the camp… an Iranian attempted suicide and an Egyptian hung himself. Yesterday, a Pakistani died, and last week, an [Egyptian] died in the bathroom. I attempted suicide by cutting my vein last week but I am still alive….” This is the heart-breaking text message Human Rights Watch received from Arash, a 30-year-old Iranian asylum seeker who’s been stuck on the Greek island of Lesbos since last September.

While Human Rights Watch could not confirm these specific suicides, local news media has reported less detailed stories of migrant suicide attempts.

Stranded Syrian refugees carry their children through a show storm at a refugee camp north of Athens, Greece January 10, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

Arash’s plea for help reflects the hopelessness and dangers of life at Moria, a refugee hotspot, and other island camps across Greece. Three men died on Lesbos in the six days between January 24th and 30th. Although there is no official statement on the cause of these deaths, they have been attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning from makeshift heating devices that refugees have been using to warm their freezing tents. Late last year, a blast likely caused by a cooking gas container killed an elderly Kurdish woman and her young grandchild at Moria.

“[N]o one is supposed to hear our plea. There is no noise or reaction,” Arash’s message continued. “During the four months I have been here, I have not been interviewed once, and they [authorities] keep postponing [my interview]. Extreme cold temperature, lack of heating, adequate food and clothing and humiliating treatment…” Arash told us that three days before attempting suicide, he tried to visit the camp’s psychologist and told them he was tortured in prison and still has nightmares. The camp reminded him of the prison. The psychologist’s response: there are 90 people ahead of you in the line and you have to wait.

To carry out an EU deal signed with Turkey in March 2016, Greek authorities have put in place a containment policy on the islands, designed to prevent migrants’ onward movement to the mainland and beyond and to enable forced returns back to Turkey. But freezing temperatures and heavy snow, rain, and strong winds this winter have turned conditions from dire to deadly.

Greece and the EU should hear Arash’s plea and act urgently to ensure the rights, dignity and safety of all asylum seekers. The authorities should transfer people as fast as possible to decent accommodation on the mainland, and improve provisions for much-needed mental health services and psychosocial support.

Because nothing justifies the terrible conditions in which these men were condemned to die, and in which Arash and others are condemned to live.

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