Refugees Lima (L), from Afghanistan, and Celestine (R), from the Congo, sit in the apartment they live in in Thessaloniki, Greece, 18 February 2021 | Photo: Achilleas Chiras / EPA
Refugees Lima (L), from Afghanistan, and Celestine (R), from the Congo, sit in the apartment they live in in Thessaloniki, Greece, 18 February 2021 | Photo: Achilleas Chiras / EPA

The Greek government has said that a major refugee housing program now has a capacity of 23,253 places, giving vulnerable asylum seekers hope for a better future.

Almost a year after they took over the management of a major refugee housing program, Greece's government says the scheme has grown to a capacity of 23,253 places and provides vulnerable asylum seekers with hope for a better future.

The ESTIA program, which is funded by the EU, transitioned to being managed by the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum instead of NGOs in January 2021. The gradual transfer of the management of all the accommodation places was completed this month.

Of those 23,253 places, there are 3,571 apartments and 185 rooms in 20 buildings, with the program housing 14,435 people, which represents 67% of the total accommodation capacity. The facilities are distributed across 15 Greek cities and one island throughout Greece. At the end of November 2021, an accommodation program was also completed on the islands of Chios and Lesbos.

Housing for vulnerable asylum seekers 'key to integration'

The ESTIA program provides rented housing to vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees in Greece, with the Migration Ministry saying integration is the key. "Providing accommodation within the urban fabric of society helps restore a sense of normalcy and provides better access to services, including education and health," said the Ministry in a media statement.

"Additional support is provided by social workers and interpreters so that beneficiaries have access to medical services, the labor market, language courses and leisure activities. The program also facilitates the integration of those who remain in Greece, while the local population benefits from the rental of their apartments. The Ministry cooperates closely with NGOs and municipalities throughout Greece to offer housing in apartments and buildings for rent since November 2015," the statement continued.

Beneficiary: Azizi Amir

One of the beneficiaries of the program, Azizi Amir, 38, is a father of two from Afghanistan who was forced to flee his country of origin because of fear of and threats from the Taliban owing to his military status.

Azizi Amir arrived with his family on the north east Aegean island of Chios after traveling across Asia, unable to find a safe place. The family lived at the reception and identification center on Chios for a year until they settled in an apartment ran by MAKE HOPETEN, in November 2020 within the framework of the ESTIA 2021 program.

"We are optimistic about the future and hope to finally be able to build a stable life for our children," said Amir, who was quoted in the Ministry's media release. "We regained the sense of security and peace that we have been deprived of all these years. Little Yosouf [my son] already has a basic knowledge of Greek and is looking forward to starting school, while me and my wife Sadaf are learning Greek and English, hoping that we will soon be able to work. My wife has completed her primary education in Afghanistan and hopes that she can continue her education in Greece, while we have the same aspirations for little Sana [our daughter]."

Helping the vulnerable

In total, since November 2015, almost 83,000 people have benefited from the ESTIA program. By the end of November 2021, 14,435 people were housed in the program, among them 2,451 recognized refugees.

A total of 44% of the beneficiaries are children. The vast majority are families, with an average of five members. More than one in six beneficiaries meet at least one of the eligibility criteria for their participation in the program. The three most common cases of vulnerability are: 7% serious medical problems; 3% victims of violence; 5% single parent family.

In terms of nationalities, the vast majority, close to 77%, of people participating in the program are Afghans, Syrians, Iraqis, Congolese (DRC) or Iranians. However, as of the end of November 2021, there were 45 different mothertongues spoken by people on the program.

More than four out of five housing units are in apartments, while the rest are in other buildings. The Ministry of Migration and Asylum implements the program via 25 collaborations, with 11 Greek and International NGOs, as well as 14 municipalities.

The housing partners are the NGOs: CRS (Athens, Thessaloniki), Hopeten (Athens, Chalkida), ICSD (Igoumenitsa, Ioannina), PRAKSIS (Athens, Thessaloniki), ARSIS (Athens), Social Solidarity Actions (Thessaloniki) ), Life Force (Athens), Iliaktida (Kilkis), Epirus Youth Center (Ioannina), Nostos (Athens), Elpida Lighthouse (Athens, Thessaloniki), and the municipalities are as follows: Athens (ADDMA), Thessaloniki (MUNTHESS), Heraklion (HDA), Karditsa (ANKA), Katerini (DIPAK), Larissa (DIKEL), Livadia (KEDHL), New Philadelphia - New Chalkidona (KEDFX), Piraeus (KOD), Sitia (PLOIGOS), Tilos (TILOS), Trikala (E-TRIKALA), Tripoli (PARNONAS), Chania (SFCHANIA).


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