Refugees at a protest against evictions in Greece on June 1 | Photo: picture-alliance/dpa
Refugees at a protest against evictions in Greece on June 1 | Photo: picture-alliance/dpa

In Greece, over 11,000 refugees could soon be evicted. They have been living in reception facilities for asylum seekers where they are no longer allowed to stay. Many worry that they could face homelessness. Here’s what you need to know -- and where affected refugees can get help.

Thousands of refugees in Greece have been asked to leave their accommodation this month. As of June 1st, all refugees who received international protection before May 1, 2020 are no longer eligible to stay at reception facilities.

Many of those affected by the evictions are considered vulnerable – families with small children, elderly refugees, people struggling with mental or physical health problems. A report by news agency AFP mentions that among those affected is an Iraqi family where the father is in a wheelchair and his five-year-old daughter requires assisted feeding through a gastric tube.

A total of 11,237 people are set to be evicted from reception and identification centers, camps and hotels, according to NGO Refugee Support Aegean (RSA). This includes people in housing provided through the program ESTIA (European Emergency Support to Integration and Accommodation), which is supported by the European Union and UNHCR.

AFP reported on June 1 that dozens of affected refugees had already left. But there have been no reports of forced evictions being carried out thus far. The Greek migration ministry did not respond to our request asking whether, when and how the authorities would carry out evictions, and whether alternative accommodation would be provided to those evicted.

Why have 11,000+ refugees been asked to leave?

There are an estimated 115,600 migrants, asylum seekers and refugees currently living in Greece (according to UNHCR data for January 2020). This number by far exceeds its accommodation capacities, leaving many homeless or stuck in completely overcrowded camps. 

Greece is hoping that by evicting recognized refugees from the reception system, it can transfer asylum seekers from overcrowded camps, such as Moria on the island of Lesbos, into those facilities.Life in the terrible conditions at the Moria camp is particularly difficult for children  Photo DWFSchmitzOnce someone receives international protection in Greece, they are no longer entitled to reception services for asylum seekers, including accommodation. "There is a wildly different system of support and set of rights for a person who is an asylum seeker, whose application is still pending, and a beneficiary of international protection," Minos Mouzourakis, legal officer for RSA, told InfoMigrants. As soon as a person receives international protection, "because their legal status changes, their legal entitlements are completely different," he said.

And the transitional grace period was recently reduced significantly: Since March of this year, people can no longer stay in the reception system for six months after they were officially recognized as refugees -- they only have 30 days.

Among the roughly 11,000 refugees who have now been asked to leave the reception system are both people whose grace period expired recently and some who were allowed to stay long past their grace period. According to Greek newspaper Ekathimerini, some of the affected refugees had their asylum applications accepted three years ago. 

Why refugees struggle to find housing

Theoretically, officially recognized refugees should have access to most of the social services that Greek nationals have. They are also allowed to work. But in practice, the transition out of the asylum reception system is incredibly difficult for many. The bureaucratic hurdles to receive state support are high, many refugees cannot yet communicate effectively in Greek, and many face discrimination in the job and housing market. So they have a hard time paying for housing and finding an apartment or house.

A refugee from Ghana, who is among those who have been asked to leave their accommodation, told us about his apartment search via Facebook. He lives in Mytilene, Greece. He said it has been incredibly difficult for him, even though he holds a job and would have no problem paying for an apartment:

"I have been searching … for more than two months. I make a minimum of two calls calls per day. The landlords always reject me. When I make calls, the landlords sometimes ask where I come from. Some are rude [and] say they don't rent to migrants. Others say 'no to me' without an explanation. Sometimes I'm able to make an appointment with some landlords, [but] they refuse to show me the house when they see my skin color. Others get angry and ask me why I didn't inform them that I'm a migrant from Africa."

Refugee advocacy groups and the UNHCR have expressed concern that the people evicted could end up homeless. "Forcing people to leave their accommodation without a safety net and measures to ensure their self-reliance may push many into poverty and homelessness," UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said last week.

 This woman was photographed at a protest against the looming evictions of refugees in Athens  Photo picture-alliancedpaProgram that helps refugees navigate life in Greece

Where can refugees turn if they are about to be evicted and don’t have anywhere to stay? 

The UN migration agency IOM runs a program called HELIOS. It supports people who have received international protection in Greece and who have to leave their reception facilities. One of the services they offer is help with housing: They assist people in finding an apartment or house. They also pay rent subsidies for six to twelve months. The program currently still has spots available, though its maximum capacity (3,500 people at a time) is far smaller than the number of people about to be evicted. 

You can find out more about the HELIOS program here.

 

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