Contribution in support of UNHCR's response to the humanitarian situation in Greece with a focus on the Aegean Islands
UNHCR’s overall strategic objective in Greece is to ensure protection and life-saving humanitarian assistance to the refugee population with a focus on the situation of the islands.
Under its planned response for 2020, and as part of the most pressing and impactful interventions, UNHCR expects the following results in Greece:
- Core relief items provided to 10,000 individuals and contingency stock set ready for an additional 5,000 individuals;
Humanitarian Aid Measures / Template - Interpretation services provided to refugee communities (through Communication with Communities) with information provided in languages of asylum-seekers and refugees;
- Legal assistance and protection services provided to asylum-seekers and refugees arriving in Greece.
The islands currently host about 42,000 individuals, out of which about 36,000 are housed in five Reception and Identification Centres (RICs), that only have the capacity and services to accommodate 5,400.
Austria's contribution of EUR 1,000,000 will allow UNHCR to reach at least 9,433 individuals with the following support:
-Core-Relief Items (CRIs) assistance: 7,000 individuals
-Legal aid services: 2,400 individuals
-Interpretation services: 33 interpreters deployed country-wide.
Partners include: the Government of Greece, other United Nations agencies, international and national NGOs, municipalities, grassroots organizations, refugee communities.
The activities to be implemented with funding from ADA aim at supporting refugees and migrants having arrived in the Aegean islands, mainly in Lesvos and Samos.
Legal aid, as well including legal aid for asylum seekers under detention remain big gaps in the protection of refugees and asylum seekers in Greece. Due to the multitude of the types of asylum procedures in Greece, and, particularly, in view of the implementation of the new legislative framework which introduces a significant number of strict formal procedural requirements to be observed by asylum-seekers, the provision of legal aid is becoming a very crucial safeguard and an indispensable pre-condition for a fair and efficient asylum procedure.
Communication with communities / Interpretation services:
The current pool of qualified interpreters deployed to all field locations to support all UNHCR activities with information provision and supporting protection and assistance to persons of concern is insufficient to address the growing needs for these services in border locations. It is essential to immediately increase the pool of interpreters and increase the number of interpreters’ missions to support all ongoing activities.
Provision of Core-relief Items:
UNHCR is regularly requested by the Greek authorities to continue providing essential items to the growing population on the islands and stocks need to be maintained in order to cover basic, essential and growing needs in the islands. In addition, warehousing and dispatch of tents, blankets, sleeping bags, tarpaulins, hygiene items and baby care kits as per requests of the Reception and Identification Service on the hotspot islands are also needed.
After two years of relative stability, the number of arrivals on the Greek islands started to increase again during the second part of 2019. Greece and its people have been generous and compassionate towards refugees, despite a very complex and difficult situation, and the East Aegean islands have taken on a vastly disproportionate burden and responsibility. The country currently hosts over 115,000 refugees and migrants, of whom 42,000 are living on the islands.
About 36,000 individuals are hosted in five Reception and Identification Centres (RICs), that only have the capacity to host 5,400. Some of the RICs, and the informal extensions around them, therefore, host up to ten times the intended number of people, causing major protection, security and health risks, especially for the most vulnerable individuals, while also putting a considerable strain on the host population. Violence and inter community tension have also increased. A spike in the number of arrivals in Greece was recorded in the days following the declaration by Turkey, on February 28th, that the country will no longer prevent refugees and migrants from moving to Europe with, for example, daily arrivals on the islands reaching five to six times the normal average during the first three days.
Among the new arrivals are women, children and families, often arriving in very precarious conditions and traumatized. They come from several countries, but primarily from Syria, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. On the Greek islands, UNHCR is providing, food, water and other relief items and has replenished stocks of dry food and blankets to support new arrivals. In addition, UNHCR has been repeatedly appealing to the Greek government to address alarming overcrowding on the islands and use emergency measures to expedite the transfer of 20,000 people to appropriate accommodation on the mainland and across the country.
While the Greek Government has announced a number of priority measures that are expected to improve the management, it will inevitably take time for the planned measures to be enacted and the situation is likely to aggravate. At the same time, the increase in the number of arrivals will render the humanitarian situation even more catastrophic. UNHCR is advocating at all levels for decisive action to alleviate overcrowding in the islands, through large-scale transfers of asylum-seekers to the mainland, where additional reception capacity must be found quickly. Before any of the above can materialize, urgent protection and humanitarian interventions are required, for which funds are critically needed.