November 21, 2014

cageA disturbing report from Chloe Hadjimatheou from the BBC found that Greece’s most vulnerable citizens have been subjected to dire conditions that have been made even worse due to the country’s economic difficulties. She found that federally funded centres are grossly understaffed, forcing administrators to resort to strategies many would find inhumane, including keeping individuals locked up in cages.

It is not uncommon for one nurse and one assistant to be responsible for over 20 patients, with no doctors on staff. One nurse, who spoke to the BBC on the condition an anonymity, reported, “On a nightshift I was often left alone with three assistants, who are not even nurses, to care for more than 60 patients. If there were any medical problems with the children there was no one to ask for help except God.” The same nurse also told the BBC that prior to the addition of the cages, patients were tied to their beds by their arms and legs.

Authorities were notified of the conditions at these centers in 2010, after a group of European graduate students spent several months volunteering at the facilities. Reports were sent to politicians, European Union officials, and several civil rights and disability groups before the Greek ombudsman investigated. His report highlighted many disturbing practices, including restraint, sedation, and deaths that could have been prevented. The cages were built as a response to this report.

Gina Tsoukala is the director of one of these centers. She has not been paid in over a year, but feels the need to stay and fight for her patients. She says,

“Obviously we shouldn’t have cages here but it is impossible for us to manage without them when we have such low levels of staff.”

“More than two thirds of these children have been abandoned by their families and we do not have the time to give them the emotional support we would like, nor to give them the individual care they deserve.”

Others argue that the cages are inhumane and should be removed. Steve Allen of The Mental Disability Advocate Center (MDAC) argues that the cages are in place to protect the staff, not the children, and that they are a violation of their basic human rights. According to MCAD, the only other countries using cages are the Czech Republic and Romania.

There are currently around twelve centres for disabled children and adults in Greece, and the economic crises has placed a moratorium on hiring new staff. Advocated also face pressure from a culture that continues to stigmatize those with disabilities. Gina Tsoukala told the BBC that the mothers of many of her patients were told they’d died in infancy by the fathers and doctors at the hospitals.

In a culture were disability is something to be ashamed of, and where economic conditions are at crisis levels, it is hard to say when things will improve.

To read the BBC article, follow this link

UPDATE Nov 21, 2014 @ 11:24 :

A petition created on November 17 asking General Secretary of Welfare, Ministry of Labour and Social Security and Welfare Greece Efi Bekou and 2 others to provide human rights for children and young adults with disabilities in Lechaina, Greece  can be found here.

Read more about the group aims in their position paper here.

Visit them online:


About the author 

Laurel Joss

Laurel Joss is a freelance writer with a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. She worked as an RDI® Program Certified Consultant and has published articles in Autism Spectrum Quarterly and on her blog She is a mother to two children, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. You can also follow her on and

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