UNHCR: Greece needs EU help to manage its refugee crisis

Greece still faces great challenges in managing its refugee crisis, particularly if European Union countries do not step up their relocation and family reunion programmes, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said on Wednesday during an official visit to the country.

Greece’s shores were the gateway to the EU for more than 856,000 refugees and migrants last year, according to UN Refugee Agency figures. Flows have slowed significantly this year, but some 57,000 people remain in the country, with a small number still arriving daily.

Although conditions in reception centres are slowly improving, many people still live in overcrowded and inadequate sites as they await solutions for their future.

“The challenges are very serious, and we need to continue to address them together,” Grandi said. “Especially the living conditions, security in the refugee sites, and overcrowding on the islands. These are all issues for which we continue to be at the disposal of the Greek government.”

Grandi’s visit to Greece is his second since he took over as head of UNHCR at the start of the year. He stressed the need for EU member states to speed up legal options such as family reunification and relocation through the EU’s official relocation programme.

So far 3,054 refugees have been relocated from Greece to other EU member states, while another 3,606 are scheduled to depart in the coming months. Still, support lags as member states have pledged only 8,003 spaces out of 66,400 committed.

Meanwhile, adequate housing is difficult to secure as refugees’ stay in Greece becomes long-term. UNHCR and its partners, which include six NGOs as well as the municipalities of Athens and Thessaloniki, have provided accommodation in apartment buildings and hotels for more than 10,300 relocation candidates and vulnerable asylum-seekers. There they are provided with food and healthcare together with psycho-social and legal support in a programme funded by the European Commission.

Unaccompanied children in Greece are a high-priority concern for UNHCR. Some 1,472 are on a waiting list for a safe shelter. UNHCR has so far provided 345 temporary shelter spaces for children alone. Another 245 spaces are planned.

Grandi said “I want to thank the people of Greece but also the Greek institutions: the Greek government, the Hellenic Coast Guard, the police, the municipalities, the volunteer organizations that have and continue to help people arriving on the shores of Greece as refugees and sometimes very vulnerable migrants. In a world and in a context that has become very closed and hostile to refugees, Greece has been exemplary.”