The Mediterranean basin has been a stage for a horrific plight and tragedy of thousands of people putting their lives in peril to cross the seas into EU.
The Danish Refugee Council launched its activities in Greece in November 2015 as a part of the joint emergency response to an unprecedented influx of refugees and migrants reaching Greek islands via the Eastern Mediterranean Migration Route. In 2015, 856,723 arrivals by sea were registered in Greece – seven times the figure in 2014, which was itself a record year. According to UNHCR the vast majority (87%) came from the world’s top 10 refugee producing countries.
DRC initially focused on establishing the conditions for an effective response, including recruitment, procurement, and engagement with people of concern, Greek authorities, the UNHCR, volunteer groups and other NGOs. Humanitarian activities were mainly implemented in the Moria, Lesvos reception site, where DRC supported the identification of vulnerable people, and assisted them by providing information, counselling and shelter management.
The closure of the Balkan countries’ borders in February 2016, and the shutdown of the main pathway to Europe for people fleeing war and persecution, together with the EU - Turkey Statement, had an immense impact on the refugee situation in Greece. Consequently, DRC expanded its activities to the mainland to respond to the needs of people living in several sites across Greece. Greece has now got over 71,000 asylum seekers and refugees stranded within its borders. DRC operations in Greece are coordinated from the Country Office in Athens, with offices in Lesvos, Thessaloniki and Larissa.
At present, arrivals in the Greek islands are ongoing and the Greek state has begun to take over management and financing of aspects of the reception and integration system.
Areas of intervention
Site management support (SMS)
One of the major ongoing gaps is the insufficient capacity to ensure that reception and accommodation facilities are dignified, well-staffed, culturally appropriate and respectful of humanitarian standards. DRC has taken up the role of Site management support in several sites across Greece, collaborating closely with the Greek Ministry of Migration Policy and other primary duty bearers in the provision of assistance and services regarding:
- Support to site coordination
- Care and maintenance
- Food support
- NFI distribution
- Water and sanitation
- Community mobilization
- Communication with communities
The feedback of the refugee communities is at the heart of all DRC Site management support activities and aspects of the operation, from assessment, through planning and program implementation. A dedicated team focuses on dissemination of timely, accurate, and well-targeted information for beneficiaries, and facilitates feedback on the quality, reach and appropriateness of services within the sites. DRC also seeks to improve the care for refugees/migrants and their meaningful access to services and information with the help of cultural mediators.
Protection monitoring and legal aid
DRC is committed to establishing a protective environment and safeguarding human dignity for persons in Greece through protection monitoring, individual protection assistance, the creation of safe spaces for children and women and child protection services through a leading child relief agency.
In addition, asylum seekers need information on their status, their rights and the legal framework related to their asylum process and access to local services. Asylum seekers in Greece can ask to be reunified with their family, if they have core family members that already applied for asylum in another European country; or they can choose to apply for asylum in Greece. Since the closure of the Balkan corridor and the cease of the Relocation program, the Family Reunification Scheme remains the sole legal alternative for refugees opting to leave for another European country. DRC is committed to establishing access to legal aid to those in need of international protection regularly providing professional:
- Legal info sessions
- Individual legal counselling
- Individual legal representation
Moreover, DRC has expanded its legal aid capacity in terms of counselling and representation for vulnerable asylum seekers in Greece since there is an increased need for legal aid provision.
DRC offers distinct non-formal education activities for school age children (7 to 15), youth (16-18) and adults in refugee hosting sites and urban centers where gaps have been identified. The activities are age-appropriate and conducted by qualified teachers and include Greek and English lessons, educational activities and excursions to places of interest.
Protection of human rights and administration of legal aid for refugees, alongside with provision of dignified, culturally appropriate living conditions, will remain the focus of DRC operations in Greece. With emphasis on building the foundations for integration and social cohesion, DRC has committed to take on new projects aiming to restore refugees’ dignity and build their resilience. At the same time DRC will continue to advocate for a people-centered and protection focused response to be adopted by the EU and Member States in the search for joined-up, sustainable solutions.
- DG HOME - Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs
- DG ECHO - Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations
- UNHCR - United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
- IOM Greece - IOM and DRC joint projects:
- Improving the Greek Reception System through Site Management Support and Targeted Interventions in Long-Term Accommodation Sites
- Supporting the Greek Authorities in Managing the National Reception System for Asylum Seekers and Vulnerable Migrants (SMS)
- Hellenic Integration Support for Beneficiaries of International Protection - HELIOS
- Metadrasi – Action for Migration and Development
- National and Kapodistrian University of Athens
- Terre des Hommes