Greece's migration ministry has rejected claims from NGOs that refugees and migrants residing in camps across the country have been deprived of food. This comes after UNHCR handed over the cash assistance program to Greek authorities.
A group of 26 NGOs active in Greece released a statement on Monday (October 18), saying that many migrants and refugees in camps go hungry.
They called on the Greek government and the European Commission to ensure immediate access to food for people residing in facilities run by the migration ministry "regardless of their legal status." They also demanded of the government "to restore financial assistance to asylum seekers and recognized refugees."
Thousands of refugees and migrants without food?
The NGOs said that several groups -- people who have officially received refugees status, people not yet registered as asylum seekers and people whose asylum claims have been rejected -- are excluded from food distribution in camps. These are people who are technically not eligible to stay at reception facilities; yet they often live there because they have nowhere else to go in Greece.
According to their claims, pregnant women, single-parent families, children and the chronically ill people are among those affected.
36,000 asylum seekers eligible to receive cash benefits have not received their money following a handover of the program from UN refugee agency UNHCR to Greek authorities on October 1, according to the NGOs.
Instead of money, these people "have been receiving portions of food, reportedly of very poor quality and often not fully cooked," the NGOs claimed.
Signatories: Greek refugee council, Intersos, IRC
The NGOs also said that "in some places food is not even provided to those who have been quarantined due to the coronavirus". Moreover, they estimated that 60% of migrants and refugees living in camps on the Greek mainland had not received food.
Among the NGOs that signed the statement where prominent organizations such as the Greek Council for Refugees, Intersos, the International Rescue Committee, Lesvos Legal Center and the Greek branch of Terre des Hommes.
Earlier this month, refugees and migrants from the Nea Kavala camp in northern Greece protested against a rule that bans people with a rejected asylum case as well as recognized refugees from accessing food distribution points.
Greek government responds
The Greek government responded to the claims made by the NGOs, saying that the accusations are unfounded.
"All asylum seekers are eligible for food programs in the camps from October 1 and they will also be granted financial aid at the end of the month," said a media statement issued by the Migration Ministry.
The government said that since October 1, asylum seekers in camps had been "provided with three meals and drinking water per day, while there is a special provision for specific groups (diabetics, infants depending on their age, etc.)." It also claimed that asylum seekers "will receive the financial assistance provided as normal at the end of October, which will be paid into their accounts; therefore there is no delay / problem in this aspect."
Refugees, rejected asylum seekers not eligible for food
The government did not directly dispute that people whose asylum cases were rejected did not have access to food, saying that "migrants who have received a negative final decision regarding their asylum claims are obliged to leave the country. Alternatively, they can be taken to pre-departure centers depending on the decision of the Greek Police."
It did, however, say that for these people "there are special subsidized programs in cooperation with the IOM and Frontex, for which they receive constant information."
The government also did not dispute that people recognized as refugees did not received food at camps, saying that they were eligible for other types of support.
"Refugees who have been recognized as beneficiaries of international protection do not have the right to reside in the camps for asylum seekers and must leave them. At the same time, they have the right to work and can apply for allowances for further support. At the same time, they have the right to access the HELIOS program, implemented by our Ministry in cooperation with the IOM, with the funding of the European Commission, while in the near future additional integration programs will be activated with funding from the Recovery and Resilience Fund," it said.
Migrant rights advocates have repeatedly criticized that while recognized refugees are technically eligible for government support in Greece, they often cannot access these programs due to bureaucratic, language and cultural barriers.