UNHCR concerned after protesters occupy Athens cash assistance centre

UNHCR

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, regrets the forced interruption by protest action of its regular cash assistance programme in Athens and hopes to resume normal service once the safety and security of beneficiaries and staff is assured.

Demonstrators had been blocking access to the Akominatou Street cash assistance centre, run by UNHCR partner Catholic Relief Services (CRS), since late July, to press their complaints about long delays in the system and demand for accelerated cash assistance for themselves and all other refugees and asylum-seekers in Greece.

On Monday, following intimidation and threats, a small group of protestors broke into the centre and occupied it. Other beneficiaries approached the centre during the day in a vain bid to seek help-desk services.

Throughout the protest, UNHCR and CRS staff have tried to engage with the protestors and resolve the situation through dialogue and provision of information about the cash assistance programme, including eligibility. UNHCR understands and acknowledges the concerns raised, but condemns the use of threats, violence and intimidation.

Meanwhile, some beneficiaries affected by the closure of the Akominatou centre have begun to complain, and UNHCR is seriously concerned that this could lead to escalated tension between different groups if the situation remains unresolved, and calls for restraint. More than 100 people a day normally visit the centre, which includes a help-desk and conducts registration, cash card distribution and certification of beneficiaries.

UNHCR is responding to the needs of thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers in Athens, providing cash for basic needs. Every applicant’s eligibility is assessed on the basis of date of entry in Greece, legal status and location before assistance can be provided, and this process can cause delays. UNHCR constantly monitors the needs and reviews policies and procedures to help improve the programme.

UNHCR is implementing the programme in close cooperation with the Ministry of Migration Policy and two partners, CRS and the IFRC (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies), providing cash assistance in Greece under the EU-funded scheme.

Since April 2017 more than 76,000 eligible individuals have received cash assistance in Greece at least once. Beneficiaries are certified on a monthly basis and in July 2018, almost 52,000 individuals benefitted from the cash assistance, with 40 per cent of them living in the Attica region.