MYTILENE, GREECE—Mira Aztil, a clinical psychologist with the Israeli NGO IsraAid, recalls the traumatic stories she’s heard from her refugee patients in Lesbos, Greece: One Iraqi woman described how she had suffered through an encounter with “The Biter,” a spiked metal tool used by the Islamic State to clip off the flesh of women deemed to be immodestly dressed. Another woman, a Syrian mother of four, had been racked with guilt since her husband died on the trek across the snow-laden Syrian-Turkish border. She was convinced that her urgency to get the family to safety quickly had caused his heart to fail.
Severe trauma cases are seen on a daily basis on Lesbos, the pastoral Greek island currently serving as the front line to Europe’s largest wave of forced migration since the Second World War. Since January, 2015, 1.2 million refugees have entered Europe, almost half of whom (48 percent) are from Syria, according to figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The Guardian recently reported that nearly 450,000 of them have come through Lesbos.
While most humanitarian-aid missions on the island are focused on food, shelter, and other emergency needs, small teams of therapists and social workers are scrambling to provide coping methods to an unknown number of diagnosed trauma victims. In recent months, organizations like the International Rescue Committee (IRC) have begun to devote more of their attention to mental-health care, said Angeliki Kardi, one of three psychologists on the IRC staff.