Cash assistance to hundreds of refugees disrupted by ongoing blockade

UNHCR

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is concerned that cash assistance to hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees has been disrupted since 6 August by an ongoing blockade of its Athens help-desk and cash centre.

Demonstrators have occupied the Akominatou Street cash assistance centre, run by UNHCR partner Catholic Relief Services (CRS), in protest against perceived delays and demanding accelerated disbursement of cash assistance.

Tensions eased slightly after a series of meetings between UNHCR and protesters, but the occupation of the cash centre has continued, leaving many asylum seekers and refugees without support. The Athens-based centre regularly serves 100 people each day and is responsible for the entire Attica urban population of concern, more than 16,000 individuals. Meanwhile, UNHCR is redirecting beneficiaries of the programme to its helpline and with partners has put in place alternative methods to certify beneficiaries and replace lost cards. Communication with the protesters is ongoing.

On 14 August, UNHCR staff and interpreters (for Arabic, Kurmangi, Sorani and Farsi) met with some 60 people, including protesters and community representatives, to address questions and clarify the eligibility for, and parameters of the cash assistance programme. Participants in the meeting raised a range of issues, including the transition of assistance from sites to urban locations; the continuation of cash assistance for those enrolled in the programme; the receipt and use of cash cards; and registration into the cash assistance programme.

UNHCR described its continuing actions to ensure timely registration for cash assistance within eight weeks, by registering approximately 500 families per week with priority to people with specific needs. UNHCR underlined that this could only be implemented once the centre could be re-opened and resume operations.

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.

Since April 2017, UNHCR has provided cash assistance under an EU funded scheme to more than 76,000 eligible individuals in Greece. Beneficiaries are certified on a monthly basis and in July 2018, nearly 52,000 people benefitted from the support, some 40 per cent living in the Attica region.