Thousands of recognised refugees of Greece will no longer receive shelter or cash support from an EU-funded scheme. No road map has been offered either.
Thousands of refugees in Greece face the risk of becoming homeless after an abrupt halting of an EU-funded programme that gave cash support and accommodation to asylum seekers.
Under the Filoxenia programme, seventy-five state-leased hotels across the country were hosting vulnerable refugees from the reception and identification centers. The programme was initially ended in December and most of the remaining contracts were annulled in January and February, according to The International Rescue Committee (IRC).
While the ending of the programme has already affected more than 2,000 recognised refugees, another 750 are about to lose their accommodation as the programme is scheduled to be discontinued in a day or two. Only 380 people with extreme vulnerabilities were provided with alternative options.
“It’s extremely concerning that recognised refugees in Greece are being turned onto the streets amidst a global pandemic,” Imogen Sudbery, the IRC’s Director of Policy and Advocacy - Europe, said in a report.
“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,” she said.
For thousands of people, obtaining refugee status often takes years of wait in camps. Being forced out from their temporary accommodations without being given alternative options creates the risk of poverty and homelessness.
However, the refugees can’t easily cross to another EU country from Greece after losing their accommodation. Under EU law, if a refugee is registered in Greece, they’re allowed to stay in another EU country only for three months and then they could be sent back to Greece.
Dimitra Kalogeropoulou, the IRC’s Greece Director says the emergency schemes such as Filixenia must remain until other long-term solutions are in place to ensure that refugees who need support are not left homeless.
“Being legally recognised as a refugee is too often the continuation, rather than the end, of troubles for people in Greece,” IRC’s Kalogeropoulou said.
“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,” he said.
Integration remains one of the greatest challenges that Greece faces since the beginning of the migrant crisis that saw its heights in 2015.
The UN’s refugee agency has continuously expressed concerns over Greece’s policy of ending assistance for many recognized refugees prematurely. IRC also invites Greece to include support for integration from early stages to Greece's new National Strategy for Integration.
“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,” said IRC’s Kalogeropoulou.
“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.”
In the last five years, the country became a hotspot for refugee arrivals through the Mediterranean, one of the deadliest routes to Europe. Fleeing armed conflicts at home, people mainly from Syria, and other war-torn countries including Afghanistan and Iraq reached the coasts of Greece and its islands, mainly for being a connecting route to Europe. Currently, an estimated 80,000 refugees are in Greece.
Greece’s response has been trying to push-back refugee arrivals particularly after a right-wing government came to power in 2019 in a policy that attracted international condemnation.