LONDON: Thousands of refugees and migrants currently in Greece are at risk of becoming homeless, as an EU scheme to provide temporary shelter and cash assistance is set to end.
Aid groups and international bodies have appealed for action as up to 2,000 men, women and children in Greece face destitution as the EU-funded Filoxenia program draws to an end.
The program worked with hotels to provide shelter for refugees and migrants, but it has been drawing to its long-planned end since December.
Already many hotels have ceased hosting refugees, and in the coming days up to 750 more people are at risk of being ejected from their accommodation.
Many who lost access to hotel accommodation have resorted to sleeping rough in squares and public parks.
Christine Nikolaidou, a public information officer at the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), told Arab News that it is working closely with Greek authorities to provide around 800 people with appropriate accommodation, and to help them establish lives in the country.
“Integration can benefit refugee and local communities,” she said. “Steps toward integration have been made, but significant challenges for refugees remain, such as learning the Greek language or finding a job in Greece.”
The IOM, she said, has been trying to ease this process for refugees by providing accommodation and employment workshops.
The organization, alongside Greek and EU authorities, have also been making “targeted interventions” to protect unaccompanied child refugees on the Greek islands.
But despite the work of international bodies such as the IOM, some remain concerned for the safety of the hundreds of refugees facing potential homelessness — a danger compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s extremely concerning that recognized refugees in Greece are being turned on to the streets amidst a global pandemic,” said Imogen Sudbery, the International Rescue Committee’s director of policy and advocacy in Europe.
“Without necessary documentation, access to information, language skills or other essential means of becoming self-reliant, they’re at grave risk of becoming homeless and unemployed.”
The Mediterranean country has found itself on the frontlines of the last decade’s wave of migration to Europe from Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
There are now an estimated 80,000 refugees living in Greece, the majority from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Pakistan.
Under EU rules, refugees arriving in the bloc must claim asylum in the first safe country they land in — which, for many, was Greece.
This has put a strain on the country’s post-crisis economy, and the integration of the thousands of refugees living in Greece is now seen as its biggest challenge.
“What we’re seeing reflects the wholesale lack of national integration policy that, incredibly, is still a problem so many years after this crisis began,” said Lefteris Papagiannakis, head of advocacy, policy and research at charity NGO Solidarity Now.
“They’re images we’ve seen before, and will see again, unless real efforts are made to include these people in our society.”