Refugees face eviction in Greece as thousands more wait for homes

A police officer kicks a protesting migrant during clashes outside a refugee camp in the village of Diavata, west of Thessaloniki, northern Greece, Saturday, April 6, 2019. (AP)
Updated 22 April 2019
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Refugees face eviction in Greece as thousands more wait for homes

  • Greece currently hosts over 70,000 refugees, including nearly 15,000 in overcrowded Aegean island camps

ATHENS: Abdullah Ahmadi, an Afghan living with his wife and five children in an apartment in the Athens suburbs allocated by the UN refugee agency, is about to lose his home for the past three years.
“In two months I have to leave. I have been looking for work in Greece and have only found random jobs that are not enough to support my family,” says Ahmadi, who spent a year on the island of Lesbos before being able to reach the Greek capital.
“I do not know how I’m going to get along, and I’m scared that I will end up on the street with my family,” he says, distraught.
Thousands of refugees like Ahmadi are facing possible eviction from EU-paid homes in Greece this year as more await to take their place to manage a slow but steady flow of new arrivals from Turkey, support groups have warned.
Nearly 6,800 people currently hosted in rooms and flats around the country under a program funded by the European Union and run by UNHCR in cooperation with local non-governmental groups could be affected.
Ahmadi took part in a demonstration last week by refugees in central Athens to protest against the evictions, supported by far-left activists, NGO workers, and students.
Following a controversial EU deal with Turkey in 2016 the flow of migrants and refugees to Greece has slowed to a few dozen daily.
But even these numbers are enough to overwhelm limited facilities on several Aegean islands opposite Turkey, which are already crammed many times over their nominal capacity.
With nearly 9,000 arrivals since the beginning of this year, the situation on the islands is explosive — especially on Lesbos and Samos — and the ministry of migration is desperate to remove as many people from the camps as possible.
As of March 31, the first 160 refugees who were granted asylum before August 2017 had to give up their homes on the mainland to other asylum seekers, with another round of evictions expected in the next two months.

“(This) will free up spaces for those in Lesbos and Samos who live in difficult conditions,” immigration minister Dimitris Vitzas told Radio News 247 last month.
According to UNHCR spokesperson in Greece Boris Cheshirkov, the Estia program designed to help asylum-seekers “will continue to operate with three components: financial assistance, accommodation and administrative support.”
But he adds that “after securing asylum, they would theoretically have to leave the dwellings in the next six months, but so far the Greek government had not applied this principle.”
The immigration ministry notes that recognized refugees can now draw on state benefits normally allocated to poverty-stricken Greeks, such as rent subsidies.
In addition, for three months after leaving Estia homes, “the refugees will retain the economic aid they receive, and will be helped to obtain a tax number, open a bank account, register at jobs centers,” a migration ministry official said.
They are also to receive vocational training.

Ahmadi, however, seems to be completely unaware of the procedure for obtaining benefits: “I have never heard of this!,” he sighs.
NGO worker Christina Svana, who was part of the Athens protest, says the decision to evict was “taken hastily.”
“The first expulsions took place a few days ago and the next will take place on June 30. The movement will accelerate and we are afraid that among the evicted people, a large majority cannot fend for themselves and find an apartment,” she warns.
“There are no realistic solutions for refugees who will leave their homes or lose their economic aid,” medical charity Doctors Without Borders said in a statement last month.
“Theoretically, it is good to say that refugees must integrate and no longer depend on aid provided by the associations and the UNHCR, but for that it was necessary to plan an integration program,” adds Svana.
Over 22,000 people were accommodated thanks to the Estia program last year.
Greece currently hosts over 70,000 refugees, including nearly 15,000 in overcrowded Aegean island camps.


‘Results’ needed from Myanmar over Rohingya return: UNHCR head

Updated 55 min ago
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‘Results’ needed from Myanmar over Rohingya return: UNHCR head

  • A UN fact-finding mission called for Myanmar’s top generals to be prosecuted for “genocide”
  • Myanmar pejoratively labels the Rohingya as “Bengali,” implying they are illegal interlopers

YANGON: Myanmar must “show results” to convince Rohingya refugees to return, the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said Friday at the end of his first visit to Myanmar since the crackdown against Rohingya Muslims in 2017.
A brutal military campaign in western Rakhine state forced some 740,000 Rohingya over the border into Bangladesh.
Around one million Rohingya now languish in sprawling refugee camps from various waves of persecution.
A UN fact-finding mission called for Myanmar’s top generals to be prosecuted for “genocide” and the International Criminal Court (ICC) has started preliminary investigations.
During his visit Grandi spoke with both Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine Buddhist communities in Maungdaw and Buthidaung in northern Rakhine, the epicenter of the violence.
He also held discussions with officials in capital Naypyidaw, including civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, describing all talks as “constructive.”
“My message is: ‘please accelerate’, because it has been very slow in the implementation in this first year. We need to show results,” he told AFP in an interview in Yangon.
“This is not enough to convince people to come back,” he said.
Grandi visited the camps in Bangladesh in April.
The two countries have signed a repatriation agreement but so far virtually no refugees have returned, fearing for their safety and unconvinced they will be granted citizenship.
Myanmar pejoratively labels the Rohingya as “Bengali,” implying they are illegal interlopers and the community has had its rights eroded over decades.
Gaining independent access to northern Rakhine is difficult with most journalists, observers and diplomats only allowed on brief chaperoned visits.
Grandi defended the UNHCR’s involvement in a plan by the Bangladeshi government to move some 100,000 refugees onto low-lying island Bhashan Char.
The area in the Bay of Bengal is prone to flooding and cyclones.
Rights groups oppose the scheme that has also so far been universally rejected by the Rohingya themselves.
The refugee agency must be “involved” to have the necessary information in order to take a stance on the issue, Grandi said.
“We’re still at that stage, no more than that.”
He also visited camps near Rakhine’s capital Sittwe, where nearly 130,000 Rohingya have been confined since a previous bout of violence in 2012.
Myanmar has announced it will close the camps but many are skeptical the displaced will enjoy more freedoms.
Grandi said the UNHCR would reconsider its role in providing services if conditions did not substantially improve.
“To simply transform the camps, upgrade the camps, upgrade the houses, for example, but leave them in the same situation will not be a solution,” he said.