Let us talk about Northern Greece

Over the past months, our teams working in Northern Greece have witnessed fluctuations in the refugee population in the broader area, including new arrivals and movements to camps organized by the Ministry.

During the summer, many Yezidi people from Iraq arrived in Greece seeking Asylum. According to partner organizations and the media[1], there were new hostilities against the Yezidi population in Iraq. The Yezidi minority was first attacked by the Islamic State group in Sinjar, northern Iraq, in 2014; “Thousands were imprisoned or killed, and close to 100,000 people fled to Mount Sinjar. The UN has referred to the attack as a genocide[2].

With the increase of the Yezidi population in Greece, the Greek authorities applied the ‘fast-track’ process to these people and their asylum-seeking procedure; This means that the duration between the first and the final stage of the Asylum-seeking process was short, as people receive their Residence Permit cards very soon. Although people receive their positive decision on their asylum application, they cannot leave camp life until they have all the relevant documents (residence permit and travel documents).

According to the current provision program, the authorities only provide food to asylum seekers. This means that people who received their Residence Permit or whose application for Asylum has been rejected are excluded. Therefore, within the camp there are people who do and people who no longer meet the standards to receive food from the Ministry. 

A Drop in the Ocean supports this situation by providing food kits to those no longer enrolled on the food distribution lists. Since August we have provided 1846 food packs to those in need.

Further, the teams have witnessed intense mobility of the refugee population on the mainland. This is due to two main factors – two new RICs in the mainland and the closure of the ESTIA programme. While the first factor supports people who were not previously accommodated, the latter is challenging accommodation and integration-wise.

More specifically, the Authorities implemented two RICs (Reception and Identification Centres) on the mainland, these being Diavata (in the North) and Malakasa (in the South). The new RICs support settling the latest arrivals and the people who found themselves on the mainland without passing through the Evros RIC to register. The procedure follows the scope of recording people’s Asylum claims and then arranging their transfer to refugee camps such as Nea Kavala, Alexandria, etc.

This fact supports people who were not until now registered with the Asylum Offices and therefore did not have access to any provision.

On the other side, a challenging fact which needs to be noted is the ESTIA programme closure[3]. The ESTIA programme was created to house vulnerable persons in apartments, as in the camps, the security and other provisions were inadequate to their specific needs. Such cases included families, single parents, older people, and specific protection cases.

A number of the ESTIA programme population in the North were resettled to camps, usually away from their previous accommodation. At the same time, other people remained without any other shelter provision It should be mentioned that for the people who have been living and successfully integrating into cities, being transferred to Camps in other areas is a great challenge. Furthermore, children attending school had to move out of their integrations-circles – school and educational relations – they managed to establish after they left their country of origin. In addition, finding accommodation is a challenging process for people who did not receive further shelter assistance.

Due to the above, the number of people residing in the camps is increasing again. And so do the needs of those places. Food provision, integration activities for the people, and job-seeking support are examples of the different needs. A Drop in the Ocean is assisting in every way it can. As we say, every drop makes a difference and brings change. 

[1] Yazidis, displaced again, fear more strife in Iraqi homeland | Al Arabiya EnglishSinjar’s Yazidis, Once Again Displaced, Fear Ongoing Insecurity (insidearabia.com)

[2] 5 things you should know about the Yezidis | NRC

[3] Closure of ESTIA II: thousands of extremely vulnerable asylum seekers to be left without humane and adequate accommodation and proper care (fenixaid.org) ; The end of the “ESTIA” housing programme for asylum seekers (forintegration.eu)