The Mediterranean basin has been a stage for a horrific plight and tragedy of thousands of people putting their lives in peril to cross the seas into EU.
Danish Refugee Council launched its activities in Greece in November 2015 as a part of the joint emergency response to an unprecedented influx of refugees and migrants reaching Greek islands via the Eastern Mediterranean Migration Route. In 2015, 856,723 arrivals by sea were registered in Greece – seven times the figure in 2014, which was itself a record year. According to UNHCR the vast majority (87%) accounted for the world’s top 10 refugee producing countries.
DRC initially focused on establishing the conditions for an effective response, including recruitment, procurement, and engagement with people of concern, Greek authorities, the UNHCR, volunteer groups and other NGOs. Humanitarian activities have mainly been implemented in the Moria, Lesvos reception site, where DRC has supported the identification of, and assistance to vulnerable people, by providing them information, counselling and shelter management.
The closure of the Balkan countries’ borders in February 2016, and the shutdown of the main pathway to Europe for people fleeing war and persecution, together with the EU - Turkey deal, had an immense impact on the refugee situation in Greece. Rather than being a country that refugees pass through, Greece has now got over 60,000 persons of concern stranded within its borders, and consequently, DRC has also expanded its activities to the Greek mainland. Arrivals in the Greek islands are ongoing while the Greek state has begun to take over management and financing of aspects of the reception and integration system.
Presently, DRC operations in Greece are coordinated from the Country Office in Athens, with offices in Lesvos, Thessaloniki and Larissa.
SMS (Site Management Support)
One of the major ongoing gaps is the insufficient capacity to ensure the reception and accommodation facilities are dignified, well-staffed, culturally appropriate and respectful of humanitarian standards. DRC has taken up the role of Site Management Support in several sites across Greece, collaborating closely with the Greek Ministry of Migration Policy and other primary duty bearers in the following domains:
- Provision of assistance and services (Shelter, Food assistance/ NFI distribution, WASH)
- Overall integration of activities
Communicating with communities is vital to all aspects of the operation, from assessment, through planning and program implementation. A dedicated team focuses on dissemination of timely, accurate, and well-targeted information for beneficiaries, and facilitates feedback on the quality, reach and appropriateness of services within the sites. DRC also seeks to improve the care for refugees/migrants and their meaningful access to services and information with the help of cultural mediators.
Protection monitoring and legal aid
DRC is committed to establishing a protective environment and safeguarding human dignity for persons in Greece through protection monitoring, individual protection assistance and the creation of safe spaces for children and women.
In addition, asylum seekers need information on their status, their rights and the legal framework related to their asylum process. They are asked to choose between three legal options: they can try to be relocated to another EU country through the relocation program; they can ask to be reunified with their family, if they have core family members that already applied for asylum in another European country; or they can choose to apply for asylum in Greece. Since the closure of the Balkan corridor, the Relocation program and the Family Reunification Scheme remain the sole two legal alternatives for refugees opting to leave for another European country. DRC is committed to establishing access to legal aid to those in need of international protection by providing them with the assistance of professional legal actors in charge of regularly conducting:
- Legal info sessions
- Individual legal counselling
- Individual legal representation
Moreover, DRC has expanded its legal aid capacity in terms of counselling and representation for vulnerable asylum seekers on the Greek soil since there is an increased need for legal aid provision.
Protection of human rights and administration of legal aid for refugees, alongside with provision of dignified, culturally appropriate living conditions, will remain in the epicenter of DRC operation in Greece.
With emphasis on building the foundations for integration and social cohesion, DRC has committed to take on new projects (cash transfer program, informal education, etc.), aimed at restoring refugees’ dignity and building their resilience. At the same time DRC will continue to advocate for a people-centered and protection focused response to be adopted by the EU and Member States in the search for joined-up, sustainable solutions.
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