UNHCR urges Greece to ensure integration safety and opportunities for refugees


Some 9,000 former asylum seekers who became recognized refugees in Greece will have to start fending for themselves as the support system that has been giving them accommodation and basic needs was stopped by the government on June 01.

In the coming months another 11,000 refugees will have to transit from assistance for asylum seekers to general social welfare, once recognized as refugees by Greece’s asylum authorities.

A new law adopted by Greek authorities in March 2020 reduces the grace period for recognized refugees from six months to 30 days to make a transition from organized accommodation and basic support to an independent living.

The objective of the law is to make more resources and space available for asylum-seekers as Greece’s reception system is facing a shortage of places.

Recognized refugees need to vacate much needed accommodation for asylum seekers waiting in crowded reception facilities on the Greek Aegean islands. Over 31,000 women, men, and children live in five island reception centres with capacity for fewer than 6,000.

However, UNHCR has continuously expressed concerns that assistance for many recognized refugees is ending prematurely, before they have an effective access to employment and social welfare schemes, foreseen by Greek law, according to spokesperson Andrej Mahecic.

Mr. Mahecic said that forcing people to leave their accommodation without a safety net and measures to ensure their self-reliance may push many into poverty and homelessness.

He said that most of the affected refugees do not have regular income; many are families with school-aged children, single parents, survivors of violence, and others with specific needs.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and measures to reduce its spread create additional challenges by limiting people’s ability to move and find work or accommodation.

Mr. Mahecic stated that shifting a problem from the islands to the mainland is not a solution as UNHCR has been urging authorities to apply a phased approach, a higher threshold to extend assistance to vulnerable people who cannot leave at this stage.

Refugee integration is a process which requires sincere efforts from refugees to become self-sufficient and give back to their host society, he said.

At the same time effective access to national schemes and integration programmes which offer language classes, vocational training, and access to gainful employment are key.

Refugees are eligible for several national schemes providing minimum guaranteed income, housing support and other benefits to the most vulnerable. In practice, however, refugees face barriers in accessing support. UNHCR has proposed concrete measures to the Greek authorities and is working with the Government to promote their effective inclusion.

Among those scheduled to leave their accommodation now are 4,000 refugees staying in the UNHCR-managed ESTIA accommodation scheme, funded by the European Commission. The programme’s rules and eligibility are determined by the Greek government.

Mr. Mahecic said that UNHCR stand ready to continue assisting Greece to find solutions and address this complex situation and ensure that recognized refugees get adequate support in their ongoing transition to self-reliance. (Source: UNHCR)