Asylum seekers in Greece are to benefit from the extension of an EU-funded program to provide them with housing and financial assistance. The idea is to transfer refugees from camps to proper accommodation with better access to basic facilities.

The program, which is called Emergency Support Program for Integration and Housing (ESTIA) and is managed by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), aims to house 30,000 people in apartments across the country by the end of 2017.

Under the conditions of the program, asylum seekers will get access to accommodation with a year's prepaid rent as Greece aims to provide dignified living conditions to migrants and refugees. "This new EU funding fundamentally changes the way in which we're helping to improve the living conditions of refugees and migrants; in essence it's life-changing," EU Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Commissioner Christos Stylianidis told reporters.

He added: "The aim of these new projects is to transfer refugees from camps to regular accommodation and to provide them access to a safer, more normal life. Through our partnerships with humanitarian agencies and national authorities, we're committed to helping the most vulnerable refugees and to fulfilling our humanitarian duty in the transition to a more cost-effective solution."

New areas included 

Up until now, participants in the housing initiative included the municipalities of Athens, Thessaloniki, Livadia in central Greece, Crete and 14 nongovernmental organizations. However, the effort has received a further boost with the inclusion of the municipality of Nea Philadelphia-Halkidona, while local authorities in the cities of Trikala, Kariditsa and Larissa are set to get on board soon.

Property owners who wish to rent out their apartment are being advised to submit applications to their relevant municipality .Apartments must be between 60 and 120 square meters in size and any costs for alterations or repairs are covered by the program.

The total budget of the ESTIA program is 151 million euros and also includes the provision of special loans which will be linked to the Greek emergency social protection fund, depending on the size of the refugee family. 

Refugees will also be provided with pre-paid cards which will give them access to food, medicine and public transport. Another chunk of the money will be allocated to humanitarian NGOs for existing projects aimed at addressing pressing humanitarian needs across Greece, including primary health care, psychological support, improved hygiene conditions and education.

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