Record numbers of refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean at great peril to find safety in Europe since 2015, when nearly a million people arrived in Greece by sea from Turkey. Most of those making the dangerous journey have been fleeing conflict in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
For many refugees, Greece was merely a transit country. Many people continued on to destinations further north. But the situation changed in March 2016. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia closed its borders. Shortly after, the EU and Turkey signed an agreement stating that all new irregular migrants crossing Greece from Turkey would be returned to Turkey. Despite border closures and the risk of deportation, people still make the desperate choice – they arrive cold and traumatised.
Meanwhile, refugees stranded in Greece have applied for asylum there, while others wait to be relocated or for their family reunification applications to be decided. While Greece is responsible for nearly 50,000 stranded refugees, the government must deal with the economic crisis that still affects its citizens.
NRC's operation (Until end of March 2018)
In 2015, thousands of people arrived on the island of Chios every day. In July 2017, we ended our activities there, after funding ceased and the government took over the management of services. We continue to advocate for the rights and welfare of people who are still stranded on Chios.
Today, many vulnerable refugees are relocated from islands to the mainland, and in late 2016, we rolled out an urban project in the northern city of Thessaloniki to ensure that refugees live in proper accommodation.
In the Thessaloniki area in the northeast of the country, our teams now support the authorities in the management and upgrade of two refugee camps. We:
- help vulnerable refugees and migrants who are moving from camp settings to urban accommodation
- upgrade and maintain infrastructure like water and sanitation facilities and prepare camps for winter
- coordinate and train volunteer groups and other actors operating in the camps
In 2016, NRC started education projects in Greece. Our teams:
- provide English, Greek, Arabic, science and math classes to children in the camps around Thessaloniki and in urban areas
- teach IT and English classes to youth aged 15 and above.
Shelter and settlements
In Thessaloniki, we give refugees a chance to return to normal life. Our teams:
- rent properties through our urban housing programme to provide apartments for refugees
- work to ensure that they have meaningful access to services and begin their integration into Greek society
- in northern Greece, we focus on bringing temporary warehouse sites up to the minimum safety and dignity standards
Many refugees live in inhumane conditions, some in crowded and dangerous tent camps without job opportunities and basic rights like education. Our advocacy teams:
- urge the government to meet all humanitarian needs on Greek islands
- raise awareness of the realities faced by refugees when they arrive in Europe
- stress the need for refugees relocated from the islands to the mainland to be housed in apartments rather than in camps
- encourage the international community and other European member states to fulfil their legal human rights and refugee obligations
- identify major protection gaps that remain on Greek islands, particularly legal counselling and assistance, as well as education for all children and youth
- European Economic Area (EEA)
- Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO)
After more than two years of assisting refugees in Greece, the Norwegian Refugee Council will end all field operations at the end of this month.
Making Evropi home: learning Greek
In 2015, nearly a million people from countries ranging from Afghanistan to Yemen fled to Greece, the gateway to safety in Europe. Some are making a home in Greece, learning a language that gave a name to the continent: Evropi.