Athens, Greece, March 5, 2021 — Thousands of people who received refugee status in Greece, often after years of waiting in camps, are at risk of poverty and homelessness after being forced to leave their temporary accommodation, warns the IRC.
The EU-funded Filoxenia programme, which provided temporary hotel accommodation to refugee families in Greece, closed in December and ended contracts with most of its remaining hotels in January and February.
The decision has affected more than 2,000 recognised refugees, including young children.
Some have already been exited from hotels, while another 750 look set to lose their accommodation in the coming days. Hotel owners have lost their hosting contracts and whole families have resorted to sleeping rough on streets and in public squares.
The families affected, except 380 people with extreme vulnerabilities, are not being provided with any further concrete alternative accommodation options. They have received travel documents so they are able to leave Greece and settle in other countries. However, under EU law, refugees are only allowed to stay in another EU country for up to three months after which they risk being sent back to Greece.
Dimitra Kalogeropoulou, the IRC’s Director for the IRC in Greece, said:
“Being legally recognised as a refugee is too often the continuation, rather than the end, of troubles for people in Greece. Many recognised refugees are living on a financial cliff edge, where one month after refugee status is granted they find themselves stripped of cash assistance and state-provided accommodation.
As people strive to navigate the long and often complex process of integration, programmes such as Filoxenia can be the difference between a temporary place to call home and destitution on the streets. These types of emergency schemes must remain until other long-term solutions are in place to ensure that refugees who need support are not left homeless.
The IRC’s experience shows that withholding integration support measures until a person’s refugee status is determined risks setting them on a path towards social exclusion. On the contrary, when refugees are supported and empowered to work, and build social ties and networks from the moment of their arrival everybody wins - it boosts integration and bolsters the local economy.
We hope that support for integration from early stages will be included in Greece's new National Strategy for Integration, which we’re pleased to see is being designed with input from refugees themselves.”
Imogen Sudbery, the IRC’s Director of Policy and Advocacy - Europe, added:
“It’s extremely concerning that recognised refugees in Greece are being turned onto the streets amidst a global pandemic. Without necessary documentation, access to information, language skills or other essential means of becoming self-reliant they are at grave risk of becoming homeless and unemployed.
The EU’s new Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion provides a promising framework to improve the way Europe welcomes refugees and empowers them to regain control of their futures. If Greece and other member states, including Greece were to implement this plan effectively, it could be transformative for new arrivals and receiving communities alike.”
Recognised refugees struggle to integrate into the Greek system, facing huge obstacles to securing a social security number, a tax number, or a bank account which are all necessary to get a job or rent an apartment. According to UNHCR, just 6% of the 6,409 refugees enrolled in its ESTIA accommodation programme in December had a national bank account.
These barriers have been raised even higher due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has decimated the job market, made it more difficult to find accommodation, and even harder to access the documents people need. Without this paperwork, refugees are unable to access the HELIOS integration programme which could provide them with integration support and rental subsidies.
The IRC is calling for the Greek government to ensure people are not evicted amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We also urge the EU and national authorities to invest in the early integration of refugees and asylum seekers, and immediately begin implementing the plans outlined in the EU’s new Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion.
At an IRC-hosted panel discussion last Thursday a representative from the Greek Ministry of Migration suggested its new National Strategy on Integration would be unveiled in the coming weeks. We welcome any plans for new or strengthened early integration measures in Greece.
Learn more in the IRC’s recent report ‘The time is now: A plan to realise the potential of refugees in Greece’.
The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 29 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue-uk.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.