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March 31, 2016

The ever changing and growing needs in Greece


The ever changing and growing needs in Greece

This was my first visit to Greece since we started supporting refugees there in September last year. Our aim for the trip was to meet with partners and to assess the ever changing and growing needs in Athens.

There are approximately 44,000 refugees in Greece at the moment, with around 10-15,000 in Athens (although this has now increased to around 25,000 as those from the islands are brought to the city). Whilst these numbers do not sound huge in comparison to the 2.5 million in Turkey, it is quite clear that Greece is struggling to house and coordinate efforts to support those who came to the country primarily to transit through it, but are now ‘stuck’ as borders close.

Whilst we were there we visited two camps where refugees are staying – Pyraeus, which is at the Port where ferries carrying refugees travelling from the islands dock, and Elliniko, which is the Olympic Park; together there were about 6,000 people sleeping on every space on the floors and in tents outside, they seemed to also be wind tunnels and not particularly well sheltered – I couldn’t get warm during my short stay, so I am not sure how they are coping.

We also went to Victoria Square which is a meeting place for refugees to come to during the day to exchange information and for something to do. At each we spoke with several refugees – primarily Syrians, Afghanis, Pakistanis and those from the Western Sahara region, who told us about their journeys to date and their desires to travel further into Europe to start a new life for themselves and their families.

It was heartbreaking to learn why they had to leave – one family was clearly a middle class family from Kabul, his brother was kidnapped by the Taliban and they sold everything they had to pay his ransom. They were then told to flee or they would be killed. They were well dressed, spoke fantastic English and were desperate for any information about how to travel further north.

Our partners have been working day and night to scale up their operations to try and meet the demands on them. We have been working with Praksis in Idomeni, to support a medical unit and provide much needed medical aid to those who were exiting the country at the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) border.

We also supported our second partner the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) to distribute humanitarian relief items across Greece, such as raincoats, blankets and sleeping bags, as well as wheelchairs. GCR also distributed supermarket vouchers and arranged for particularly vulnerable refugees – such as families with young children, the elderly, the disabled, or those who survived shipwrecks to sleep in a hotel for the night.

Given that approximately 5% of all refugees are unaccompanied minors who are particularly susceptible to human traffickers and sexual or economic exploitation, we are starting a new programme with GCR to identify and protect these minors to offer refuge, as well as social and legal services.

The needs in Greece are constantly changing which is making planning programmes particularly challenging but with a flexible approach and strong partners we are making a difference for thousands of refugees. With another 10,000 or so refugees arriving to Athens from islands over the last few days due to the clearing out of the islands, the provisions in Athens are going to be increasingly stretched and in higher demand.

Whilst it is hard to predict what might happen next, we are keen to continue to work with and alongside partners to scale up our operations in Athens. We want to try and move beyond meeting the day-to-day needs of refugees and think more about what people will need for the coming months. This will include ensuring the refugees have access to the appropriate shelter, activities, legal and social support which they so desperately need.

Stacey Swimer
Director of International Programmes and Partnerships