Humanitarian and political background
Record numbers of refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean at great peril to find safety in Europe. Over a period of two years (2015 – 2016) over 1.3 million people arrived in Europe by sea, out of whom over one million landed on Greece’s shores.
NRC started operations in Greece in mid-October 2015.
A new wave of crisis
The majority of those making the deadly journey are fleeing conflict in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Anguish and despair, caused by the constant threat of violence as well as the lack of access to health services, jobs and education opportunities, push them to leave. In Turkey, where many seek refuge before leaving by boat, limited opportunities coupled with language barriers and continuous vulnerability means many choose not to rebuild their lives there.
Crossing the choppy waves, often in rough weather, has led to a large number of tragic accidents. The odds are against them, but people still make the desperate choice. They arrive cold, wet and traumatised. Some are on the brink of death, others separated from their families.
A transit, not destination
The refugees, migrants and asylum seekers who arrive in Greece look north. The traditional route from Greece, up until March 2016, continued through the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria.
Closure of borders
Following the full closure of the Western Balkans transit route in March 2016, onward passage from Greece through FYROM has not been possible for arriving refugees and migrants. The restrictive EU-Turkey statement that followed came into effect on 20 March.
Those who arrived before March 20 and could not cross into FYROM are stranded on mainland Greece. Those who arrived later are on the Greek islands and face the risk of forced deporation. Both groups find themselves in run-down conditions.
With limited options for travel onwards, more than 50,000 refugees and migrants in mainland Greece are in need of emergency services. Refugee camps have opened in new locations across the country, including outside main urban centres, Athens and Thessaloniki.
NRC in Greece
Through our Greece programme, we bring assistance to displaced people that arrived and continue arriving in Chios by sea. On the mainland, where refugees are stranded in camps, NRC strives to help them live in conditions of dignity.
On Chios, NRC works together with the Greek authorities, humanitarian agencies and volunteers to assist refugees in open reception and identification facilities and informal settlements.
In the Thessaloniki area, NRC's teams support the authorities in the management and upgrade of refugee camps, and facilitate the transfer of vulnerable refugees and migrants from camp settings to urban accomodation.
Through NORCAP, NRC has also deployed more than 20 experts to Greece, supporting the UN's and the Greek Government's capacity to respond to the crisis.
In Syria we would die quickly, but here we are dying slowly. In Syria we would be killed in the war, here the despair is strangling us.
Jamal, his wife and child (2) are in Chios, Greece (May 2016)
NRC's response includes camp and site management support, ensuring good services in the camps and involving refugees. We also provide information and repair or upgrade water and sanitation installations.
We raise awareness on the reality faced by refugees as they arrive in Europe. We advocate for a coordinated response that not only addresses the humanitarian needs, but also encourages the international community and European member states to fulfil their human rights and refugee law obligations.
We support the authorities in camp management and coordination in the reception and identification centre and in the overflow informal settlements on Chios island, as well as in four refugee sites on the mainland. Between May and October 2016 NRC was also the national Site Management Support (SMS) working group co-coordinator.
NRC support the Government-appointed Camp Managers in:
- Improving the coordination in camps.
- Ensuring refugees receive key information on services available.
- Promoting community engagement.
- Upgrading and maintaining infrastructure, including water and sanitation facilities.
- Building the capacity of volunteer groups with training and workshops.
In Thessaloniki, NRC support refugees in urban settings with access to basic services and to integrate into the Greek society.
In 2016, NRC started up education projects in Greece:
- In the camps around Thessaloniki, we provide morning classes to 600 children between 7 and 15 years of age, in their mother tongue.
- On the Island of Chios, through a partnership, we provide non-formal education to 300 children and youth.
We help refugee families in Souda and the Island of Chios with basic food needs. We:
- Collaborate with two volunteer organisations, PSK and Zaporeak, to prepare and distribute 2600 pre-cooked meals per day.
- Collaborate with the volunteer organisation, Drop in the Ocean, to distribute breakfast.
Shelter & WASH
On the Greek mainland and on Chios Island, we focus on bringing the temporary warehouses sites up to the minimum safety and dignity standards. NRC also promote housing outside camps by offering rented accommodation. This would be the ideal solution and are therefore primarily intended for the most vulnerable people.
NRC in Greece
Special Programme AdviserGianmaria Pinto
Phone+30 694 888 89 59
Since snow swept through northern Greece earlier this month, the Norwegian Refugee Council has rushed to move refugee families and children into unoccupied hotels from unsuitable camps and settlements.
Don't forget us
“Here we are losing the time and chances, we are losing the time of our youth”, said an Afghan youth in Lesvos. She is one of approximately 18,000 youth refugees stranded in Greece.