5 things you should know about the refugee crisis in Greece

Although the refugee crisis in Europe is no longer the news story it once was, thousands remain stuck in Greece living lives of uncertainty. Many have to wait months, sometimes a year or more, for a single interview regarding their status. These people wait in overpopulated, unsanitary camps or shanty towns, sometimes with no end in sight. This is the every-day reality of the situation.

As the story in Greece is often unreported, there seems to be a great deal of misinformation, or a lack of understanding. To help clarify this, we have put together a short list detailing five things you should know about the refugee crisis in Greece.

ONE: Boat carrying refugees still arrive daily

According to UNCHR figures, 2018 saw the highest number of landings since 2016, the height of the refugee crisis in Europe. That year a total of 32,494 migrants travelled to Greece by sea, with 18,000 others travelling to Greece overland. So far this year, 16,385 have come to Greece, with more arriving daily. As you might expect, all the boats that land on Greek soil originate from Turkey, which is only a short distance from many of the islands. Not all boats that leave Turkey arrive in Greece, however, as many are intercepted by the Turkish Coast Guard and redirected back.

TWO: Most of those arriving are not from Syria

Although it is still relatively quite commonplace to hear people refer to the “Syrian refugee crisis” this title is actually inaccurate, because the majority of those arriving in Greece are actually from Afghanistan.

Referring to the situation as a “Syrian” refugee crisis strangely minimises it, forgetting the plight of the vast numbers of Afghanis, Iraqis, Congolese, Palestinian, and other nationalities that come to Greece.

THREE: Many refugees are only being educated by NGOs

It is no secret that Greece is one of the poorest countries in the EU. Perhaps because of this, Greece lacks the necessary infrastructure to provide the many thousands of refugee children and youth the education they need.

This isn’t to say Greece has not tried. According to Greek law, migrants don’t need full residence or identification documents to register children into local schools, and there are a number of preparatory programmes for refugee children to get used to the Greek education system. But for a number of reasons, far too few migrant children are in the education system. The situation is worse for youths and young adults.

To counter this, there are hundreds of small, grassroots NGOs across Greece whose sole aim is to educate refugees. Our NGO, Action for Education is one of them. Yet, unfortunately, many of these NGOs lack the resources to provide a curriculum and as always, and in most cases, the demand exceeds the ability to supply, especially as these organisations survive on grants, donations, and the tireless work of volunteers, many of whom are from among the refugee community.

FOUR: Most are unable to leave the islands and have no idea when they will be permitted to leave.

The main reason why there are so many refugees in Greece is that the land borders of Europe are closed as a result of the EU-Turkey deal of 2016. Prior to this, refugees were able to pass relatively freely across Europe. Now the borders are closed to refugees, they are stuck.

On the mainland, many are stuck waiting for permission to relocate elsewhere on the continent. On the islands, people wait for authorisation to travel to the mainland or elsewhere. Authorisation in this case relies on the results of a series of interviews to determine the status of each individual. Legally speaking, the definition of a refugee is extremely specific, and those who do not meet the criteria set by the Refugee Convention of 1951 and its later Optional Protocol, are not recognised as refugees and if so, may face deportation. As there are many thousands stuck on the Greek islands, processing each individual can take many months. Indeed, it is not uncommon at all for an individual to wait upwards of a year for an interview, then an additional few months to hear the result. It is extremely clear that this acute uncertainty is having a significant impact on the mental health of those stuck in Greece.

FIVE: The conditions of many of the camps are so poor, they border on human rights violations.

Most camps in Greece struggle with overpopulation. This simple fact has meant that the already basic services offered in them are often stretched to breaking point. Oftentimes, even the most basic of human needs cannot be satisfied. In Chios, for example, there is a severe shortage of drinking water, which profoundly risks the health of the residents of the camp, especially given the intensity of the Greek summer sun. In Samos, the overpopulation is so severe that hundreds of camp residents are forced to live in tents or boxes by a copse of trees neighbouring the camp.

The deplorable conditions of the camp makes living lives of dignity all the more difficult.


Action for Education works to help mitigate these issues by providing educational support in a safe, calm, and supportive environment, but more help is needed. You can find out more about donate to our projects at www.actionforeducation.co.uk/donate.

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