NGOs Raise Alarm at Growing Hunger among Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Greece

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (Nov. 24, 2021)— A halt to cash assistance for asylum seekers and the denial of food support to recognized refugees and rejected asylum seekers are creating a hunger crisis in Greece, 27 NGOs and civil society organizations warn today. 

For nearly two months, up to 60% of current residents of the Greek refugee camps on the mainland have not had access to sufficient food. Moreover, following the implementation in October 2021 of a law passed last year, the Greek government stopped providing services to those whose asylum applications have been accepted. One in four residents in these facilities are women, and two in five are children.

The women in Eleonas camp keep telling us that their children are crying at night with hunger. Mothers now don’t have money for baby milk, so they mush up biscuits in water instead,” said Emily Wilson of Project Elea. 

One chronically ill father of three children from Afghanistan said: “If I don’t eat, it’s fine, but I can’t leave my babies hungry.”

In addition, about 34,000 asylum seekers have gone for two months without cash assistance that had previously enabled them to buy food, clothing, and other essential items. 

The EU-funded cash assistance program was previously administered by UNHCR but was interrupted after the Greek government took over its management on 1 October 2021. 

In response to calls by NGOs to urgently address the situation, the government made public assurances that distributions would resume by the end of October. Yet, one month later, the problem remains unresolved, and its devastating impact on asylum seekers grows by the day.

Anita Bay, Director of Save the Children Europe, said: “Through both, its actions and inaction, the Government of Greece is creating a hunger crisis amongst refugees and asylum seekers in the country. It is unlawful, unnecessary, and totally unacceptable for this to be happening in the EU.”

Martha Roussou of the International Rescue Committee said: “Vulnerable and marginalized people are being pushed over the edge: children have to go to school hungry; sick people can’t get a bus to attend to their medical needs, and families have no resources to prepare for a cold winter.”

The halt to cash assistance strips asylum seekers’ of their dignity and deprives them of the lifeline many depended upon. As a result, refugees and asylum seekers, who were already economically marginalized, are resorting to begging and other negative coping mechanisms to survive.

Ana Liz Chiban of Fenix – Humanitarian Legal Aid said: “Among those affected are rejected asylum seekers who cannot access accommodation or healthcare and have no right to work. This includes many Afghan and Syrian refugees whose applications were rejected on the basis that Turkey is a safe country, despite the fact Turkey is not accepting any returns from Greece.”

Some asylum seekers who live outside the camps as beneficiaries of the Emergency Support to Integration and Accommodation (ESTIA) program are particularly vulnerable. They have also been affected by the interruption in cash provision but, unlike people in the camps, do not receive prepared food distributions. Without even this alternative, they have been left completely dependent on local social services and organizations to receive food, where those are available.

NGOs are calling for urgent action to address the growing crisis, including for the Government of Greece to:

  • Make the resumption of cash distributions a political priority;
  • Provide emergency assistance such as basic goods or vouchers to use in shops or for transport, to asylum seekers who were previously receiving cash assistance,
  • Ensure cash assistance installments that were not delivered to asylum seekers in the past months are delivered when the new system is put in place;
  • Distribute adequate and nutritious food to all people residing in camps, regardless of whether they are recognized refugees, asylum seekers, or have rejected their claims.

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