The UN Refugee Agency and the Municipality of Thessaloniki, northern Greece, signed an agreement today to provide more temporary housing for refugees on track for relocation elsewhere in Europe, as well as for vulnerable asylum seekers.
“This agreement shows how good cooperation between UNHCR and the local authorities in Greece is producing concrete, positive solutions for refugees,” said Philippe Leclerc, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Representative in Greece.
“It’s an important contribution by Thessaloniki to our target of 20,000 new accommodations for refugees who are candidates for relocation in Europe and one we hope will be followed by other municipalities in a joint solidarity effort ,” Leclerc added.
The agreement was also signed by Thessaloniki Mayor Yannis Boutaris and marks the seventh such partnership concluded by the UN Refugee Agency in Greece, in line with support of the Greek government’s efforts to assist the tens of thousands of refugees.
“This program will offer decent living conditions and social support to hundreds of refugee families, as well as benefits for the local community and economy”, said the Mayor of Thessaloniki.
The agreement will soon create 660 new accommodation places (600 through rental of apartments and 60 through hosting families) for refugees who have applied to be relocated to another European Union country and for vulnerable asylum-seekers. In the framework of this project, the Municipality of Thessaloniki will collaborate with the neighboring municipalities of Neapoli-Sykies and Kalamaria, as well as with a number of partners (ARSIS, GCR, HLHR, PRAKSIS, YMCA).
The UNHCR effort to secure new accommodations throughout Greece for asylum-seekers is the central aim of an EU-funded program launched at the start of the year that has already secured over 5,500 reception places in Greece.
The program, implemented through partnerships and negotiations with non governmental organizations, local authorities and property owners, is gradually progressing and comprises accommodations through a mix of apartments, hotels and host families.
In view of the urgent need to provide dignified living conditions to the tens of thousands of refugees in the Greek mainland following the closure of the northern border, UNHCR stands ready to support in identifying and contributing to the operation of additional larger sites, such as the one recently created in the northern town of Lagadikia. The site is already filled close to its capacity of 1,000 people.
Of the close to 6,000 people who have benefitted thus far from the relocation accommodation project in Greece, over 900 have already moved to other countries in Europe to live.
More than one million refugees and migrants, many of them fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan arrived in Greece last year on their way to other countries in Europe, generating one of the most complex humanitarian challenges in decades.
Greece currently hosts some 54,000 refugees and migrants — around 8,400 of them on the Greek islands — and UNHCR is supporting the government’s work to manage this challenge through a wide range of activities in the islands and on the mainland.