[Evros, gateway to Europe 6] UNHCR, guardian of the right to asylum, in a balanced position

(B2, in Greece) We are more used to seeing the logos of the High Commission for Refugees on the tent canvases of refugee camps in Africa. However, resources had to be deployed in Greece. In 2016, UNHCR was instrumental in bringing to safety thousands of refugees stranded in Greece due to border closures to the Balkans. Today, UNHCR is preparing to hand over its shelter program to the Greek authorities. Not that easy

A story that dates…

If the UNHCR has a branch in Thessaloniki, in addition to its office in Athens, it is no coincidence. In this region in northern Greece, Thessaloniki played a pivotal role in 2016 at the height of what is still called the 'migrant crisis'. At least 50.000 refugees were piled up at the gates of North Macedonia, above Thessaloniki, at the border town of Idomeni. Especially Syrians and Iraqis. Today, another camp, much less important, remains under his watchful eye. That of Diavata, in the peripheral municipality of Delta. Moreover, when B2 met him, the head of the antenna, Luca Curci, was preparing to go and see the mayor of the commune, confronted with a feeling of growing insecurity around the camp. " We feel that tensions are rising comments Luca.

Luca Curci, head of the office of the High Commissioner for Refugees in Thessaloniki (© B2/ES)

Pilot of the ESTIA program

On the continent, UNHCR has mainly focused on developing an urban accommodation program since 2016, thanks to the financial support of the European Union. " The goal is to allow asylum seekers to have shelter, to live in safety ". In all, UNHCR managed to find 25.700 places in apartments. These apartments are scattered all over the place, in towns, villages, including in Crete. Access to asylum seekers and refugees the most vulnerable » ; a concept on which the UNHCR and the Greek authorities are not always in tune explains Luca. " Authorities would like to see fewer exceptions ».

And monthly aid for refugees

UNHCR also distributes pocket money "to asylum seekers" so that they can manage on a daily basis ". Those who obtain refugee status continue to receive it for another six months. In December 2019 alone, UNHCR provided cash assistance to more than 90.500 people, amounting to €8,7 million. Since April 2017, when this cash aid program was launched, 160.000 people have benefited from it, like Sharifi (read: [Evros, gateway to Europe 8] Sharifi G. wanted to join his sister in Germany, he was imprisoned in Greece).

Tensions around the right of asylum

Luca Curci does not hesitate to speak of the hardening of the asylum policy of the new government. The right to asylum was reformed last autumn. The new rules entered into force on January 1, 2020. Everything is not yet set or very clear. Evidenced by the fact that he still has not been able to meet the head of the asylum service in the region, " because they still have uncertainties he slips. UNHCR has reservations...

There is priority and priority

For example, " the government wants to give priority to the examination of manifestly unfounded asylum applications ". In other words, those of people from so-called 'safe' countries (1) “which a priori do not produce refugeess”, thus delaying the examination of those already waiting for a long time. " We would have preferred this accelerated procedure to apply to manifestly well-founded cases, in other words which clearly have a solid need for protection. summarizes Luca.

Political tensions

The UNHCR is also critical of the fact that new asylum seekers can no longer have a social security number. " Without a number, they cannot access medical assistance. This prevents children from getting vaccinated. Gold without vaccination, no enrollment in school ". If the UNHCR multiplies the 'advocacy', they do not have the good fortune to make things happen. Even the visit of High Commissioner Filippo Grandi last November did nothing. On the contrary even. UNHCR has since had problems rolling out projects such as guardianship for unaccompanied minors.

(Emmanuelle Stoesser)

  1. The government has established a list of so-called 'safe' countries in which we find neighboring Albania, Algeria, Armenia, Gambia, Ghana, Georgia, India, Morocco, Senegal, Togo , Tunisia, Ukraine.

252 million euros of European funds

In 2019, UNHCR Greece had a budget of US$264,4 million. Amount largely financed by the European Union (252 million euros). It is used to finance the accommodation and cash assistance programs of ESTIA, as well as the management of Kara Tepe and phase 2 (two receptions in the island of Lesbos), plus a series of protection targeted primarily to help build and increase the capacity of government services.

All the articles from our report [Evros, gateway to Europe]

  1. The Evros River, the other gateway for refugees to Europe
  2. Turkey is pulling the strings at the EU's external borders (G. Koumoutsakos)
  3. In Greece, the number of pending asylum applications explodes
  4. The reception and treatment of refugees under the pressure of the EU-Turkey agreement
  5. EASO will double its workforce in Greece
  6. UNHCR, guardian of the right to asylum, in a balanced position
  7. For MSF, the only crisis is that of a lack of political will
  8. Sharifi G. wanted to join his sister in Germany, he was imprisoned in Greece

Emmanuelle Stroesser

A journalist for magazines and the press, Emmanuelle specializes in humanitarian issues, development, asylum and migration and human rights.