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Refugees in limbo


Some 62,000 refugees fleeing violence are stranded in Greece. The International Rescue Committee ensures that they have the services they need to live safely and with dignity.

Country facts
  • Population: 11 million
  • Refugee population in Greece: 62,000+ (over half of them women and children)
  • Rank in Human Development Index: 29 of 188
IRC response
  • Started work in Greece: July 2015
  • People assisted: 31,000

Greece crisis briefing

During the past two years, 1.3 million people fleeing conflict and persecution have travelled through Greece in search of safety and a better life in Europe. With the closure of the Balkan borders and the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement in March 2016, refugees now find themselves stuck in Greece.

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What caused the crisis in Greece?

The majority of refugees who have travelled to Greece by sea come from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, countries roiled by conflict. Half of them are women and children desperate to find a safe place to live or to reunite with family members scattered by war. Having endured years of conflict and months making the dangerous journey to Europe, often in the hands of smugglers, they now find themselves stranded for the foreseeable future.

The legal path available to refugees in Greece- either asylum in the country or relocation elsewhere in Europe-is a long one: The relevant autorities don't have enough staff to process asylum claims quickly. Refugees have been forced to wait in temporary camps, with limited access to crucial information and available services. The pyschological toll is immense. Many suffer not only from the trauma of witnessing the death of loved ones, but also the profound sense of powerlessness of a refugee's life in limbo. 


What are the main humanitarian challenges in Greece?

Photojournalist Mohammed Alooh, 27, fled with part of his family to Lesbos, Greece after he was severely injured by schrapnel in Syria. The IRC gave him a wheelchair to help him travel to Germany to be reunited with his brother. Photo: Tara Todras-Whitehill for IRC

Refugees have been traumatised by the conflicts they seek to escape. In Greece, they endure the added stress of uncertainty and constant waiting. They need mental-health counselling and other psychological support.

Refugees also need reliable information about their prospects and available asylum services. Women, many travelling alone with children, need protection from sexual violence and trafficking. Children need places to learn, play and heal from trauma. Unaccompanied children, many waiting to reunite with family already in other countries in Europe, fall victim to exploitation. 


How does the IRC help in Greece?

The IRC provides refugees in Greece with credible, up-to-date information about available services, legal rights, options for asylum, relocation and family reunification. One way we do this is through Refugee.Info, a mobile-phone friendly website available in Arabic, Farsi and English that reaches over 20,000 people per month.

The IRC also works to ensure that refugees have access to counselling services and theurapeutic and recreational activities. We have provided tailored and one-on-one support services to nearly 3,000 people living with illness, disability or trauma, or who are unable to protect themselves against exploitation and other harm.

Each day, an average of 270 children visit IRC-run safe learning and healing spaces at five refugee sites (Alexandria, Veria, Eleonas, Skaramagkas on the Greek mainland, and Kara Tepe on the island of Lesbos) where they draw, sing, play games…and heal.

The IRC, working in partnership with the Greek humanitarian agency Metadrasi, also provides shelter, protection and foster care to unaccompanied children hoping to reunite with family in other European countries.

The IRC also runs women’s safe spaces at six refugee sites (Alexandria, Diavata, Veria, Eleonas, Skaramagkas and Kara Tepe), providing a place for respite and recovery for more than 170 women daily.

Environmental health

The IRC responds in three refugee camps in northern Greece and Kara Tepe on Lesbos to ensure that people have what they need to stay healthy and live in dignity. We provide access to drinking water, toilets, hot showers, laundry facilities and basic hygiene supplies like soap, shampoo and toothpaste. We also teach handwashing techniques that can help prevent the spread of disease, and ensure that trash and recyclable items are regularly collected.

Economic recovery and development

Refugees leave almost everything behind when they flee, and their savings are depleted by the time they reach Greece. The IRC provides monthly emergency cash relief in the form of prepaid debit cards to help them purchase the items they need most from local shop owners. This enables refugees to regain some financial resilience and autonomy in their lives, and also contributes to the local economy.

What still needs to be done?

As more and more refugees are relocated from camps to Greece's towns and cities, the IRC is adapting our response, making sure that they can meet their basic needs, are protected from exploitation and violence, and can build a better future for their families. We also work with local partners to ensure that local refugees are integrated into their new communities. 

Our impact


people with aid packages that include soap, toothpaste and other items to help them stay healthy and comfortable in crowded refugee sites.

The ongoing violence in Syria and other countries in crisis has pushed over 1 million desperate people to seek safety and a new start in Europe.

Learn how the IRC helps.

vulnerable refugees, including women survivors of violence and children suffering emotional distress, with one-to-one support.

Each year, millions of people—particularly women and children—are subject to violence and abuse, and struggle to feel safe in their homes and communities.

Learn how the IRC helps.

safe spaces providing tailored support and activities for vulnerable women and children.

Fifteen-year-old Shaimah, from Syria, has found a special place where she can heal from the pain of war with help from her teachers and friends.

Read Shaimah's story.

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