Since 2015, Greece has been a key entry point for asylum seekers who are fleeing their home countries because of war or persecution and seeking safety in Europe. Last year alone, an estimated 18,778 people arrived in Greece to seek asylum. Here are 5 key updates about what’s going on in Greece right now.
5 updates from the ground in Greece
- More people are losing their lives at sea
Photo credit: Al Jazeera
Last year over 326 people, including 22 children, died or went missing in the Eastern Mediterranean. This is almost 3 times the number of people that died in 2021. This heartbreaking increase can be linked to three key developments:
➡️ Criminalisation of sea rescue: In 2018, humanitarian workers Sara Mardini, Seán Binder and Nassos Karakitsos were arrested for saving lives at sea. They still face charges today. This is reflective of a wider trend of the criminalisation of sea rescue, as the Greek authorities are penalising those who have helped save the lives of refugees in danger at sea. As a result, there are very few search and rescue boats operating in Greek waters and asylum seekers in distress at sea are less likely to get the help they need.
➡️ Pushbacks: In the absence of search and rescue boats, people in distress at sea must rely on the Greek Coast Guard and Frontex (the EU’s border and coast guard), both of whom have a long history of hostility towards refugees. Many reports show these organisations are performing illegal pushbacks, sending asylum seekers back to Türkiye, even after they have arrived in Greece. 52,965 people have been reported to have been pushed back from Greece since 2017.
➡️Changes in sea routes: In 2016, the EU made an agreement with Türkiye that Greece could push some asylum seekers back to Türkiye, rather than processing their claims in Europe. As Greek authorities use this power more and more, an increasing number of people are choosing to take the longer, more perilous journey to Italy by boat, scared of being sent back to Türkiye from Greece. Heartbreakingly, this longer route means more people are likely to get into trouble at sea.
2. The number of “closed camps” has increased
Photo credit: Sam Jubb
As of January 2023, many asylum seekers and refugees are housed in Closed and Controlled Access Facilities. These are camps that are often far away from urban areas and make it difficult for people to access basic facilities such as hospitals. They also have restricted entry and exit rules – you can only leave under specific conditions and only certain NGOs can enter. This makes it much more difficult for people to get the support they need, and for NGOs to do their vital work.
This system is particularly problematic as it means there is no specialist accommodation for vulnerable groups. On the islands, hundreds of unaccompanied children are being housed in unsuitable accommodations in these closed camps, without proper facilities, protection or support.
3. Changes have been made to the asylum procedure
Photo credit: Mobile Info Team
In 2020, changes were made to speed up the asylum procedure in Greece. As a result, while asylum seekers no longer face such lengthy waiting times in Greece, it is more difficult to get the legal support and required documents assembled in time for their interviews.
In June 2021, the Greek government declared Türkiye a ‘safe third country’ for people from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Somalia, Syria and Pakistan. As a result, during their first interview, people arriving from these countries have to explain the reasons why they would not be safe in Türkiye, instead of why they had to flee their country of origin. Only if they pass this interview will they be able to bring forward their actual asylum claim during another interview.
These developments make it more difficult to pass asylum interviews. Of the 48,000 asylum decisions made in 2022, just 33% were positive.
4. More asylum seekers are being left homeless
Photo credit: Thalassa of Solidarity
Currently, if your claim is rejected, there is no procedure in place to send you to wherever the Greek government has decided it is ‘safe’ for you to go (whether this is Türkiye or your home country). This means that many people remain in Greece in a state of limbo, unable to build a new life.
Refugees that receive a positive asylum decision also lack support. After receiving a positive asylum decision, those living in camps have one month to find a job and a place to live, and have no accommodation provided after that. Greece currently has one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe.
On top of this, at the end of 2022, the government ended their ESTIA urban housing scheme. This means there is currently no formal procedure in place to house vulnerable people in spaces that fit their needs.
As a result, thousands of asylum seekers and refugees (whether they have been accepted or rejected), including many unaccompanied children, are in Greece, homeless, living in unsuitable conditions and without support.
5. Fewer people are getting the support they need
Photo credit: Refugee Biriyani & Bananas
The “refugee crisis” that began in Greece in 2015 still persists today. However, as time goes on, and new conflicts break out across the world, the thousands of asylum seekers and refugees living in Greece are falling off the international radar. With less international support, our partners on the ground in Greece are struggling to support the people that desperately need their help.
Help is needed more than ever
The situation for displaced people in Greece remains desperate. People are continuing to lose their lives in Greek waters, and those who make it to Greece are isolated in closed camps or become homeless. Help is needed more than ever, and legal aid, housing, and basic assistance with food and hygiene products are all key priorities needed to help displaced people in Greece today.
Here’s what you can do:
We fund grassroots organisations across Greece to ensure displaced people get the support they need. These are just some of the amazing work our partners are doing across Greece today…
➡️ Our partner Fenix provides legal support to displaced people across Greece, finding new ways to make sure that they can reach asylum seekers in closed camps and give them the vital help they need to apply for asylum today.
➡️ Set up to help displaced people in Northern Greece, our partner IHA run large distribution warehouse and a Free Shop distribution point to support displaced people living inside and outside of the nearby camp with the food, hygiene products and clothes they desperately need.
➡️ Our partner Velos Youth works with the rising number of homeless displaced children and young adults in Athens today. Their Youth Center offers everything from a warm shower to long-term accommodation and employability support for young people in desperate need right now.
Head to our Donate page to fund the dozens of life-changing organisations we support in Greece right now.
Sara Mardini, Seán Binder and Nassos Karakitsos, and the 21 other humanitarian workers who were arrested for saving the lives of asylum seekers at sea, still face imprisonment today. Sign this petition urging the Greek authorities to #DropTheCharges.
Follow these accounts to keep updated on the situation in Greece right now:
Sources in order:
- The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), https://data.unhcr.org/en/situations/mediterranean/location/5179
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