In 2019, the Greek government announced that recognized refugees should gradually leave the refugee camps starting with those who were recognized before July 2017. Besides, the government announced that recognized refugees who had been staying in apartments in the context of the ESTIA program funded by UNHCR and EU will continue staying at the apartments and receive monthly cash only for six more months after being recognized. It should be mentioned here that the majority of the beneficiaries of ESTIA are vulnerable cases including families with small children, single parents, elderly people, pregnant women, or people with disabilities.

 The main reason that the government was led to this decision is the urgent need to decongest the overcrowded refugee camps at the Greek islands (mainly Lesvos, Chios, and Samos) so the idea was to make space for the people coming from the islands to the mainland by kicking out those who were already accommodated in the mainland. Moreover, the government claimed that this decision was made to help the recognized refugees “stand on their own feet”. This project was applauded by the Greek media and was presented as a positive development. There is no doubt that refugee populations, should gradually become self-reliant and independent and stop living “under the umbrella” of the NGOs and UNHCR. It is an indisputable fact that they should gradually integrate into the Greek society but this cannot happen without organized planning for integration as the Greek government does. The way it happens leads to exclusion from home, food, and EU support.

Even though the beneficiaries are given a cash amount as a motivation to leave the apartments on time or the existence of transit sites for two months after the eviction, the stress and the fear of the people when the decision is served are huge. The problems that result from this policy are innumerable. There is a lot of frustration in the face of being homeless that in a lot of cases can lead to serious mental issues. Over time, housing has always been an issue for refugees and migrants due to language barriers, discrimination, and bureaucracy. According to employees of accommodation programs for refugees, the main concern is the inability to pay the rent after the pause of the monthly allowance. The unemployment rate in Greece is 20% at the moment which makes job finding very difficult even for Greek people. In the case of refugees, there are more other factors that worsen the situation, for example, the inability to open a bank account or get a Tax Identification Number due to bureaucratic barriers or discrimination makes it impossible to get a job. Another factor that makes the situation even more difficult is the limited availability of houses for rent due to the short-term lease of properties via platforms like AIRBNB and Booking which has increased rapidly in the last five years in Greece. Of course, we cannot leave out the Covid19 pandemic and the restrictions that came along with it. Greece, from November 2020 till now, is going through the second lockdown which means that one can move only for specific reasons to cover basic needs. In this context, searching for a house is quite difficult especially for refugees that leave in camps which are usually located in remote areas, outside the cities.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) from 2019 is running the HELIOS project which aims at promoting the integration of beneficiaries of international protection in Greece who are currently residing in temporary accommodation schemes. The project includes Integration Courses, Accommodation and Employability Support, Integration Monitoring, and Sensitization of the host community. Regarding housing, they provide support towards independent accommodation, including by providing contributions to rental and move-in costs and networking with apartment owners. Until now, from the 22,980 beneficiaries who have registered to the program, only 10,029 will receive rent subsidy mainly due to bureaucratic barriers as mentioned above. Of course, HELIOS constitutes an important start but in no case, it can replace an organized integration policy coordinated by the Greek government.

As mentioned, the responsibility for integration policies lies primarily with the state. However, the EU established a variety of measures to incentivize and support national, regional, and local authorities and civil society to provide integration. The EU Action Plan 2021-2027 proposes concrete actions, gives guidance, and delineates funding for initiatives meant to bring inclusion for all. The actions include inclusive education and training, improving employment opportunities and skills recognition, and promoting access to health and access to adequate and affordable housing.

Examples of good practices we can draw from self-organized initiatives that took place in Greece to provide housing to refugees. In that cases, the beneficiaries did not only find shelter but in most of the cases, they managed to become self-reliant because in such initiatives there is a lot of freedom and independence. On the contrary, people that are staying in the official sites are most of the time far away from the cities and face many difficulties regarding their integration. The government could make good use of abandoned public buildings in the cities to accommodate refugees following the example of the self-organized initiatives. The reality is far away from that, as the government never supported those initiatives or followed their example but from the time it was elected has closed down most of them.

Housing is a basic human right, and that is far more important than just a shelter, nobody should be evicted from apartments or refugee camps especially during the winter and in such a special situation as the Covid19 pandemic.

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