Asylum seekers are affected by a new decision made by the Ministry for Migration Policy (MoMP)

“…Focus on the empowerment, encouragement and reviewing of languages and skills in order to make people more independent and self-sufficient are more important than ever.” – Sumita Shah & Cicilie Bråten-Lindblad

utkanten av en teltleir med forsøpling

In February 2019 a letter has been sent out to some people in Greece who have been given international protection and refugee status, and who have been supported by ESTIA. ESTIA stands for Emergency Support to Integration and Accommodation, and is a program implemented by the UNHCR, local authorities and NGO’s. Ministry for Migration Policy have decided to stop this program for some of its users; mainly those who have been given asylum in Greece. The need to empower people and encouraging people to attend the many language classes that are offered are relevant. A Drop in the Ocean offers both Greek and English training at our Drop Center in Lesvos, and English language training in different refugee camps. Througout a five week cycle we teach up to 500 students/residents. These activities and programs have never been more important than now.

Emergency Support to Integration and Accomodation

ESTIA was implemented in 2017, and is funded by the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid. The project is meant to provide temporary accommodation; with the intention it would stop after 6 months in each case. Receivers of the assistance are those who have been identified as asylum seekers and refugees.

Some of the people within this program have now been asked to leave their accommodation by the end of March 2019, and if leaving the accommodation willingly, they will receive the cash card solution for 3 months after exiting the accommodation. The cash card is to help the beneficiaries cover basic needs such as transport, clothes and food.

MoMP has made the policy decision to stop providing accommodation and cash to recognised refugees. The decisions about who will now be asked to exit the ESTIA funded accommodation will be made by their partner organisations through an assessment process. Below is an intro to what categories are affected and what types of exceptions from this decision there is:

1st Category

Beneficiaries of international protection affected by the official guidance are those who are recognised as refugees or beneficiaries of subsidiary protection and their positive decisions were issued prior to 31st July 2017, will cease to be eligible for ESTIA accommodation by the 31st March 2019. This group, once they have exited from the accommodation, will continue to receive cash assistance for another three months, if they leave the accommodation by the set date.

If beneficiaries do not leave the ESTIA accommodation within the exit deadline cash assistance as well as any other official supporting services will cease.

Camps will not be available as alternative accommodation for those with recognised status as camps will mainly be for those seeking asylum.

This first category has continued to receive the assistance for a longer period then the initial planned 6 months. It is not yet fully known how many that will be affected; We have been told it’s a matter of hundreds. The most likely people (although this could change) under this category that will be affected are the single guys or young couples with no other dependents. For the remainder there will be a period of assessment under the vulnerability criteria.

According to the Ministry’s guidance, three groups of people are exempted due to vulnerability reasons. The three groups are as follows:

  1. cases of women who are in advanced pregnancy (7 month and above at date of exit) or at risk of miscarriage and women who at March 31st 2019 will be in a postnatal state, up to two months after labour. For this sub-category, the exit is postponed for 2 months after 31/03/2019. In this case, family members of the nuclear family are also temporarily excluded.
  2. cases of beneficiaries lacking a family support network, who face incurable or persistent illnesses, until their referral to the appropriate public health and rehabilitation structures,
  3. nuclear families with at least one member who is facing very serious health issues, which make it vital and necessary not to change the living environment, as it would put their life at risk. For clarification, nuclear family members will also be temporarily exempted.
  4. Nuclear families with children enrolled in school. The exit is postponed until the end of the 2018 – 2019 school year. Cash assistance will be extended until this point.For the three first categories, a relevant medical certification is needed. UNHCR, along with the accommodation partners, will conduct a vulnerability assessment. UNHCR is in discussion with the authorities regarding cases facing extreme vulnerability or protection issues not included in above categories, which may be assessed on a case by case basis.

2nd Category

Those who had their recognised refugee status set between 1 August 2017 to 31 December 2018.
The MoMP has not made a decision yet on what will happen to people that fall in this category and no further information has been made available.

3rd Category

People that have received or will receive recognised refugee status from 1. January 2019 will receive 6 months ESTIA and 6 months Cash Assistance from the date that their status has been granted, after which they will be asked to leave and find other accommodation. The vulnerability assessment will most likely apply as per first category, but details are still a bit unclear. Recognised refugees may be eligible for other programmes of assistance, but this is also still unknown.

Due to the ESTIA-program full intent now being executed the time has come to actively think about how to create space for even more empowerment, self-sufficiency and independence. One of the keys to doing so is through language skills, training and help in writing CV, work and volunteer experience, help and support in navigate in the public system. Some examples from A Drop in the Ocean:

Language training at our Drop Center, Lesvos
  • Drop Center Lesvos. 
  • The building of the Community center Skaramangas where done by the residents, gives skills, training and something to refer to in the future.
  • Empowerment in activities conducted in Nea Kavala. 
  • Resident volunteers – how volunteering while being in transition and not being able to have a paid job gives skills, experience, training, and connection.

For those who wish to have a deeper read into the topic and the challenges the situation has;
Ben Mascall have conducted a research identifying key challenges in transitioning recognised away from humanitarian assistance in Greece. Read the work here:

The first information about this decision for volunteers where posted in the facebook group called ‘Athens Volunteers Information and co-ordination´.