Stronger cooperation crucial to ensure sustainable refugee response in Greece – UNHCR
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, said today that joint efforts and strengthened cooperation are crucial to improving the situation for asylum-seekers and refugees in Greece and issued eight recommendations* to help ensure a sustainable refugee response in the country.
“UNHCR is fully engaged in finding lasting solutions in Greece together with the responsible authorities and the European Union. I very much hope that the coming months will pave the way for further improvement,” said Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
“The situation in Greece can be managed. It requires moving from the current emergency response to a sustainable system, where asylum-seekers and refugees access the adequate care, support and solution they need,” he added. “But to achieve this, firm commitment is needed on all sides.”
Improving reception conditions is a priority. This would require as agreed with the Greek Government providing more accommodation opportunities in urban areas such as additional apartments, the upgrade of some government-run refugee sites, and ensuring that all unsuitable sites are quickly closed.
Progress in reception conditions will also help prevent and fight sexual and gender-based violence, to which many vulnerable asylum-seekers, including women and children, are exposed in the sites. UNHCR continues to support the establishment of proper identification, referral and support systems for victims, including legal, medical and psychosocial care and safe houses.
Over the past months, UNHCR has supported the Greek government in finding alternatives for a number of sites that were unsuitable. UNHCR stands ready to build on its accommodation scheme in particular with municipalities, which has so far benefitted over 27,000 asylum-seekers, helping to restore normalcy to their lives and paving the way for the social integration of those refugees who will remain in Greece.
UNHCR also calls for more attention to the specific needs of unaccompanied and separated children. Additional capacity is needed to ensure they receive specialized support and care, with their best interest at the centre of any decision. Only two thirds of the 2,100 unaccompanied and separated children officially registered in Greece are hosted in shelters or spaces adapted to their needs, with UNHCR providing more than half of the existing places. UNHCR also strongly hopes that the draft law on guardianship can be adopted and implemented as soon as possible.
The registration and processing of asylum claims is critical both on the islands and on the mainland. UNHCR recommends in particular to the Greek Asylum Service, in cooperation with the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), to work out a plan of the necessary capacity for the registration and processing of asylum claims, both on the islands and on the mainland, in a reasonable timeframe.
More attention is needed to the length and quality of the asylum procedures and reception conditions on the islands, said the High Commissioner. “This will allow for more and faster transfers to the mainland and prevent sites on the islands from falling back into the dire conditions and the overcrowding we have witnessed in the past months,” he added, noting that UNHCR supported some 7,000 of the more than 10,000 transfers organized since June 2016.
“Let’s be clear: Greece alone cannot solve the situation on the islands. UNHCR will continue to assist but strong support from EU Member States will also be crucial,” said Grandi, who also renewed his call to the Greek government for clear coordination structures, with well-defined roles and responsibilities for all actors.
UNHCR also insisted on the need to return people found not to be in need of international protection in dignity to their countries of origin. This is a critical part of any effective asylum system, as well as being essential to its credibility.
“Accelerating the pace and number of people relocated from Greece to other European countries or reunited with their families is also key to move the situation forward. More solidarity and responsibility sharing among across Europe is needed,” said the High Commissioner. As of 20 March, only 10,000 asylum-seekers had left Greece for other European countries.
UNHCR also called for more opportunities to facilitate refugee integration. “The time has come to invest in the self-reliance of asylum-seekers and local integration of refugees in Greece, so that they can better contribute to their host society,” said Grandi.
The increased use of cash-based assistance, with eligible families being given a debit card charged with a fixed amount of money every month, to be used to cover their basic needs, such as complementary food or clothes, will be a useful tool in this regard, he noted. More refugee children should get a chance to attend regular schools, and all refugees should get better access to social welfare services, language and orientation courses, vocational training and job placement programmes.
- In Geneva, Cécile Pouilly, [email protected], +41 79 108 26 25
- In Athens, Roland Schoenbauer, [email protected], +30 69 48 088 544