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Human Rights Day: Thousands of Asylum Seekers “Go Hungry” in Greece

Asylum seekers Greece
Migrants and refugees at the Kara Tepe camp in Lesvos, September 2020. Credit: Ministry of Immigration

Human rights organizations accused Greece on Friday, International Human Rights Day, of leaving at least 10,000 asylum seekers in Greek government-run accommodations to their own devices in procuring enough food to eat.

Synelefsi, a group of humanitarian organizations, observers and analysts, says that these people have gone well over two months without being given food or money.

The group notes that the “ESTIA initiative,” under which men, women and children in government-controlled accommodations received money once per month to spend on food and other essential items, was taken over by the Greek government on October 1, 2021.

Since then, no payments have been made.

Under the initiative men, women and children were given cash, provided by the European Union, to pay for food as well as other essential items such as soap, toothpaste, other essential hygiene items, and baby products.

As Winter sets in, these increasingly desperate people have serious fears for their lives and future, while Greek people, whose employment and incomes increased thanks to the money those people received and spent, are now facing serious economic threats, Synelefsi says.

Asylum seekers with no money or ID’s

The group highlights the case of 39-year-old Bilal Shukri, an Iraqi Kurd from Mosul who escaped from his country to escape ISIS. Bilal’s young family arrived in the Lagadikia camp, a refugee facility in northeast Greece, in February 2020. Because they had not been registered as refugees, they were forced to sleep in a tent.

Asylum seekers Greece
Bilal Shukri. Credit: Syneleysis

Almost two years later, they are still there. But things have got much more difficult for him.

Shukri’s young family – himself, his daughter and his pregnant wife – have been turned down for asylum twice by the Greek government, and they are as a result not allowed food, money, or other services — including shelter.

He says “There were 90 families living in this camp when I arrived. Eighty families were given IDs. We got a negative decision. We are forced to live in a tent at the camp. We have a five-year-old daughter. And when we wake up, we are not allowed to stay inside the camp. Every day, we are told we must get out. We have no food, no money, and nowhere else we can go.”

Shukri’s family’s situation is not unusual. Changes to Greek law which came into effect in September mean that from October, around 60 per cent of the men women and children at government-controlled refugee camps and accommodation – around 11,800 of an estimated 19,600 in mainland camps alone – have been cut off from all financial and other support.

They also cannot work, because they are officially removed from the Greek tax and social security system.

“I have no ID,” he said. “Without it, I can’t get a job, open a bank account, rent accommodation. All I want is to get a job, work, earn money and provide for my family. I want my children – my daughter and when it is a child, my baby – to go to school. I want a job. I want to work. But it is impossible. It is winter. We are not even allowed to go inside a building to get warm after sleeping in a tent.”

Business in Greece is suffering too

Synelefsi says that in the village of Lagadikia, Greek people, too, are facing challenges because no one at the camp has received money from the ESTIA program for more than two months.

It quotes Valentina Zigiridou, the manager of Loutras’ Market general store, who said: “Certainly we have made money from the camp being here. Everyone benefitted. The refugees got things they needed, the people got jobs, businesses like us made money and the local producers we buy from did too. We were selling 1,500 cartons of locally-produced eggs per month. Now, it’s maybe 100 cartons per month. The cash problems have certainly affected everyone.”

Aid organizations, such as Intereuropean Human Aid Association (IHA), which runs a community center with a space for young children, offering language and other lessons, along with daily coffee afternoons, carries out food and other distributions for people in Lagadikia; they are all trying to cover people’s most basic needs. But what they can do is severely limited by their size.

Laira Phylactou-Bastow, IHA’s Project Coordinator, explained: “We’ve started doing food distributions every week because the basic needs of people at the camp right now are not being met. Around half of the people at the camp are not even able to access food.”


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