Greece currently hosts a population of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants estimated at about 120, 000. Among them are people who arrived and remained in Greece since the 2015-2016 influx. 2019 saw the highest number of arrivals since 2016, of mostly Afghans and Syrians arriving through the sea routes.
The situation at the Reception and Identification Centres on many of the islands, as well as sites on the mainland, is of major concern, with overcrowded, inadequate and insecure conditions. The migrant population is highly diverse and often face varying degrees of waiting times to have their asylum applications processed.
High numbers of newcomers and legal restrictions that keep them on the islands has resulted in huge challenges in the national reception system capacity; with stress, tension and a feeling of insecurity prevailing amongst refugees.
“The humanitarian situation for asylum seekers, refugees and migrants in Greece continues to be of serious complexity and concern. Although not in the same numbers as before, people continue to arrive in the country. They face harsh living conditions and multiple protection concerns, much because Greece has been forced to deal with most of this crisis alone, while at the same time constrained by the ongoing financial crisis”, says Benedicte Giæver, NORCAP Executive Director.
In Greece since 2015
NORCAP has been involved in the Greece refugee crisis since the start of the influx in 2015 and began our first project with the Greek authorities in 2016. The current project period runs until 2022 and focuses on contributing to ensuring dignified reception standards and protection of particularly vulnerable asylum seekers.
Through our cooperation with the Reception and Identification Service and the National Centre for Social Solidarity (EKKA), we support efforts to develop the Greek asylum and migration management system.
Currently, 11 NORCAP experts are working at the Ministry for Migration and Asylum and the headquarters and reception facilities of the Reception and Identification Services in the mainland of Greece (Diavata, Koutsohero, Elaionas, Schisto). In addition, three experts are deployed to the National Centre for Social Solidarity (EKKA).
Training and coordination
The Reception and Identification Service (RIS), which is supervised by the Ministry for Migration and Asylum (MoMA), is the national authority responsible for the reception and identification procedures of new-comers. They also deal with accommodation and provide core relief items, such as tents, cooking equipment and hygiene kits, for asylum seekers, as well as for vulnerable persons. We contribute to the capacity development of RIS to ensure dignified conditions in Reception and Identification Centres and temporary sites and protection of persons in need.
NORCAP has chosen to focus on five areas of support, which will hopefully increase the capacity development of the Reception and Identification Services. These areas include training for staff in the field and at the central level, developing standard operating procedures and guidelines on site management support, strengthen coordination and collaboration between headquarters, decentralised sites and other stakeholders and advocate for and contribute to the improvement of the quality of services offered to the populations on the move, hosted in the reception and identification facilities.
“The Reception and Identification Services is the national authority which faces the biggest challenge in the country trying to ensure dignified conditions for the populations on the move arriving in Europe. For me, developing their capacity results in providing dignity on a daily basis for the people in need”, says Christos Dimopoulos, one of NORCAP’s site management support experts.
Working against human trafficking
NORCAP’s support to the National Centre for Social Solidarity (EKKA) aims to raise awareness among front line professionals of the public sector, but also of international and local NGOs, on trafficking in human beings.
EKKA manages and operates the National Referral Mechanism for the Protection of Victims of Human Trafficking. Part of our experts’ jobs is to train all stakeholders in the value and function of the referral mechanism, to increase their contribution to it and mainstream protection principles of the referral mechanism.
In order to do so, NORCAP currently provides three experts to EKKA; two antitrafficking training advisers and a legal assistance coordinator.
Our experts have delivered a series of interagency seminars to first-line responders of the public sector and civil society in the Aegean islands (Kos, Leros, Samos, Lesvos, Rhodes, Chios) and on the mainland (Orestiada, Evros region, Thessaloniki) during 2019 and 2020.
Apart from a 3-day training package, our experts have developed a specific curriculum for the asylum service officers, and regularly deliver trainings to NGO personnel in Athens. Due to Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, we have had to adjust these trainings to distanced learning and we have continued delivering seminars to through digital platforms in 2020.
Challenging environment, rare opportunity
The NORCAP legal adviser supports the National Referral Mechanism and professionals who provide legal aid to people who have been subjected to human trafficking. The expert also advocates for people’s right to have access to the services they need and are entitled to, without discrimination.
“It is a rare opportunity to be part of a team that builds a network from scratch. We contributed to the development of this mechanism, helped set up practical tools and have watched it grow, embracing more and more actors and building bridges between the public sector and civil society”, says Eirini Vlachou, NORCAP Antitrafficking Adviser/Trainer.
“The feedback we get from our cooperation with the National Referral Mechanism officials and the professionals we train, give us the inspiration we need to continue the effort and support those who have experienced human trafficking”, she says.