Housing

Greece

Country Report: Housing Last updated: 10/06/21

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Greek Council for Refugees Visit Website

According to Article 30 IPA, beneficiaries of international protection should enjoy the same rights as Greek citizens and receive the necessary social assistance, according to the terms applicable to Greek citizens. However, administrative and bureaucratic barriers, lack of state-organised actions in order to address their particular situation, non-effective implementation of the law, and the impact of economic crisis prevent international protection holders from the enjoyment of their rights, which in some cases may also constitute a violation of the of principle of equal treatment enshrined in L.3304/2005, transposing Directives 2000/43/EU and 2000/78/EU.

In 2020, 34,321 people were granted international protection at 1st instance, up from 17,355 in 2019, 15,192 in 2018 and 10,351 in 2017.[1] As noted by UNHCR, “[t]here is a pressing need to support refugees to lead a normal life, go to school, get healthcare and earn a living. This requires key documents that allow access to services and national schemes, enable refugees to work and help their eventual integration in the host communities […] UNHCR advocates for refugees to be included in practice in the national social solidarity schemes, as for example the Social Solidarity Income and the Rental Allowance Scheme. While eligible, many are excluded because they cannot fulfil the technical requirements, as for example owning a house, or having a lease in their name”.[2] In any event, the impact of the financial crisis on the welfare system in Greece, the overall integration strategy and the Covid-19 pandemic should be also taken into consideration when assessing the ability of beneficiaries to live a dignified life in Greece.

Moreover, a number of measures restricting the access of recognized beneficiaries of international protection to social benefits and accommodation were announced in March 2020. As stated by the Minister for Migration and Asylum, “our aim is to grant asylum to those entitled within 2-3 months and from then on we cut any benefits and accommodation, as all this works as a pull factor […] Greece is cutting these benefits. Anyone after the recognition of the asylum status is responsible for himself”.[3]

Indeed, an amendment to the asylum legislation in early March 2020 states that “after the issuance of the decision granting the status of international protection, material reception conditions in form of cash or in kind are interrupted. Said beneficiaries residing in accommodation facilities, including hotels and apartments have the obligation to leave them, in a 30-days period since the communication of the decision granting international protection”. Unaccompanied children have the legal obligation to leave the facilities within 30 days of reaching the age of majority. Special categories of beneficiaries for whom the provision of benefits or deadline to leave the facility is extended, and “in particular persons with a serious health condition”, may be foreseen by a ministerial Decision.[4]

A Ministerial Decision, issued on 7 April 2020, granted recognized refugees a deadline up until 31 May 2020, to leave the accommodation facilities due to the COVID-19 outbreak.[5]

As noted by UNHCR in June 2020[6] “Forcing people to leave their accommodation without a safety net and measures to ensure their self-reliance may push many into poverty and homelessness. Most of the affected refugees do not have regular income, many are families with school-aged children, single parents, survivors of violence, and others with specific needs. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and measures to reduce its spread create additional challenges by limiting people’s ability to move and find work or accommodation. Shifting a problem from the islands to the mainland is not a solution. UNHCR has been urging authorities to apply a phased approach, a higher threshold to extend assistance to vulnerable people who cannot leave at this stage.”

In a Joint Letter of 1 June 2020[7] to the Minister of Migration and Asylum, the European Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs, and the European Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, several civil society organisations expressed “their grave concern about the upcoming exits of at least 8,300 recognised refugees from accommodation and cash assistance schemes in Greece by the end of May 2020. A considerable number of these people, of which a large proportion are families with children, are facing an increased risk of homelessness amidst a global pandemic. Refugees who have received international protection are being forced to leave apartments for vulnerable people in the Emergency Support to Integration & Accommodation programme (ESTIA), hotels under the Temporary Shelter and Protection programme (FILOXENIA), Reception and Identification Centres (RICs) and refugee camps. Almost simultaneously, financial assistance in the form of EU implemented and supported cash cards will stop. These upcoming measures will affect the livelihood of at least 4,800 people who need to leave ESTIA accommodation, 3,500 people who need to leave RICs and hosting facilities, as well as 1,200 refugees who are self-accommodated and receive cash assistance.”

In general terms and according to the law beneficiaries of international protection have access to accommodation under the conditions and limitations applicable to third-country nationals residing legally in the country.[8]

Apart for the transitional period, in July 2019, as part of the National Integration Strategy, a programme for refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection was launched (“HELIOS 2”). This aimed at promoting the integration of beneficiaries of international protection currently residing in temporary accommodation schemes into the Greek society through different actions, such as integration courses, accommodation and employability support. The project is implemented by IOM and its partners, with the support of the Greek government and will last up until June 2021 under current funding. In order to enrol in the project, beneficiaries must meet all the following criteria:

  1. a) be a beneficiary of international protection
  2. b) have been recognised as beneficiary of international protection after 01 January 2018 and
  3. c) be officially registered and reside in an Open Accommodation Centre, Reception and Identification Centre, a hotel of the IOM FILOXENIA project or in the ESTIA program.

However, as mentioned in March 2021 by RSA and Pro-Asyl Stiftung[9] “[…] beneficiaries of international protection who were not in Greece upon the approval of their asylum application are not eligible for enrolment on the HELIOS programme. According to IOM statistics, 26,665 beneficiaries of international protection had been registered on the HELIOS programme by 5 February 2021. 34% were previously residents in an ESTIA place, 33% in mainland camps, 18% in hotels and 16% in RIC. HELIOS does not offer accommodation per se. It offers rental subsidies to assist beneficiaries in finding an accommodation place, upon condition they hold a rental agreement of a duration exceeding 6 months and a bank account. […] From the start of the reference period  covered  by  the  programme,  1  January  2018,  until  the  end  of  2020,  71,812 persons received international protection at first and second instance. Therefore, only one out  of  seven  people  granted  status  in  Greece  has  been  able  to  access  rental subsidies under the HELIOS programme. The   number   of   households   currently   benefitting   from   HELIOS   subsidies   is   2,926, corresponding to 7,667 persons. Accordingly, as many as 3,342 beneficiaries have ceased receiving rental subsidies under the HELIOS programme.”

On 12 August 2020 the Greek Ombudsperson addressed a letter to the General Secretaries of the competent Ministries raising the need for integration measures for recognised refugees belonging to vulnerable groups before they leave the accommodation facilities. The Ombudsperson requested the provision of support services and an effective access of recognised refugees to the welfare system. The General Secretary for Immigration Policy provided information on housing and integration measures already taken or planned.[10]

According to information provided by the General Secretary for the reception of asylum seekers of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum[11], from the beginning of June 2020 until the end of 2020, 2,924 people were obliged to leave an open accommodation center and 2,033 people were obliged to leave an accommodation provided in the context of the ESTIA program either because of notification of 2nd instance rejection of their asylum application or because they were granted international protection. According to the same source, during the same period, 14,287 people, previously under the ESTIA program, were integrated in the HELIOS program.

It is mentioned that there is limited accommodation for homeless people in Greece and no shelters are dedicated to recognised refugees or beneficiaries of subsidiary protection. There is no provision for financial support for living costs. In Athens, for example, there are only four shelters for homeless people, including Greek citizens and third-country nationals lawfully on the territory. At these shelters, beneficiaries of international protection can apply for accommodation, but it is extremely difficult to be admitted given that these shelters are always overcrowded and constantly receiving new applications for housing.

According to GCR’s experience, those in need of shelter who lack the financial resources to rent a house remain homeless or reside in abandoned houses or overcrowded apartments, which are on many occasions subletted. In a press release of December 2020, GCR and 71 more civil society organisations[12] expressed their concern “about the many vulnerable refugees who have been forced to exit or are facing forced exits, including survivors of gender-based violence or torture, people with health issues, including mental health, or disabilities, single women and single-parent families, young adults, and people from the LGBTQ+ community.” According to them “Many refugees have difficulties or are  unable  to  become  self-sufficient  because  of  vulnerabilities  or  problems  accessing  essential  services  and  the  labour  market.  In the past, refugees  who  were  asked  to  exit  state-provided accommodation  ended  up  sleeping  rough  in  urban  areas  or  did  not  leave  accommodation  out  of  fear of becoming homeless.  Problems  with  access  to  support  and  services  are  exacerbated  for  refugees  in  camps  because  of  ongoing  Covid-19  restrictions  and  the  often  remote  locations  of  these  sites,  making  it  nearly  impossible  to  search  for  housing,  access  services  or  find  work.  For many  refugees  in  camps,  food  insecurity is a constant risk as cash assistance is halted within one month while those not enrolled in  the  HELIOS  programme  stop  receiving  food  assistance. The announced  transit  sites  for  those  forced to exit their accommodation only provide a band-aid solution for some refugees and only ever for a maximum of two months. This period is simply not enough for people to become independent and without proper support, the number of homeless people in cities will increase. Ultimately, there  is  a  critical  absence  of  a  long-term  sustainable  strategy  for  integration  and  inclusion  in  Greece  that  results  in  increased  homelessness  and  destitution  for  many  people—of whom many are refugees”.

According to Pro Asyl and Refugee Support Aegean “Since the summer of 2020, thousands of beneficiaries of international protection have ended up  homeless  after being  informed  that  they  had  to  leave  their  places  in  the reception system within 30 days of the grant of international protection. People have been exposed to destitution and have slept rough in Victoria Square and other parts of Athens.  Following  several forcible  removal  operations,  the  Police  has  transported them  to  refugee  camps  (e.g.  Malakasa,  Elaionas,  Skaramangas,  Thiva)  and  even  to detention   facilities   (Amygdaleza),   where   they   have   remained   as   unregistered residents. […] As of early February 2021, as many as 10,405 recognised refugees resided in the country’s refugee camps alone, while 6,199 beneficiaries of international protection resided in ESTIA at the end of 2020. Persons residing  in  ESTIA  accommodation  are  being  served  complaints  (εξώδικα)  by  the organisations operating apartments, threatening them with legal action if they fail to vacate the premises. Media reports confirm that hundreds are being left on the street in February 2021 amid the COVID-19 pandemic and harsh winter conditions. At the end of the month, status holders became homeless yet again across the territory, after being   requested   to   leave   their   places   in   hotels   running   under   the   FILOXENIA programme […] In Athens, approximately 70 people ended up in Victoria Square and were transferred by the authorities to the pre-removal detention centre of Amygdaleza.”

On 21 January 2021, the Higher Administrative Court (OVG) of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia has ruled that two beneficiaries of international protection in Greece, an Eritrean national and a Syrian national of Palestinian origin, cannot be sent back from Germany because of a “serious risk of inhumane and degrading treatment.” The Court held that if the two refugees were returned to Greece they would face “extreme material hardship”, they would be unable to find accommodation in reception facilities or homeless shelters, and would have difficulty accessing the labour market. [13]

Moreover, on 19 April 2021, the Higher Administrative Court of the state of Lower Saxony ruled that two Syrian sisters who were recognized as refugees in Greece cannot be returned there because there is a serious risk that their most basic needs (“bed, bread, soap”) cannot be met.[14]

 

 

[1]  Information provided by the Asylum Service, 31 March 2021 and 17 February 2020; Asylum Service, Statistical data, December 2018.

[2] UNHCR, Greece Fact Sheet, 1-31 January 2019.

[3] Protothema.gr, End of the benefits to refuges according to Mitarakis, 7 March 2020, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/2IwvE51.

[4] Article 114 L. 4636/2019, as amended by Article 111 L. 4674/2020. Said ministerial Decision, has been issued on 7 April 2020 (JMD No 13348, Gov. Gazzetta B’ 1190/7-4-2020).

[5]  JMD No 13348, Gov. Gazzetta B’ 1190/7-4-2020.

[6] UNHCR, Greece must ensure safety net and integration opportunities for refugees, 2 June 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2RWkhLL

[7] Joint Letter about the exits of recognized refugees from accommodation and cash assistance, 1 June 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3asvbiB

[8] Article 33 IPA.

[9]  RSA and Pro-Asyl Stiftung, Idem, para. 30-36.

[10]  Greek Ombudsperson on integration measures for recognized refugees, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/3aqCvLK

[11]   Information provided on 18 March 2021

[12]  Press Release of 72 civil society organisations, Refugees in Greece: risk of homelessness and destitution for thousands during winter, 22 December 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/32GaR8V

[13] See also Infomigrants, German court rules that refugees cannot be deported to Greece, 27 January 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3n74jK4 , ECRE, Greece: Unknown NGO to Receive Substantial EU Funds, Government Admits Lead Contamination in Moria 2.0, German Court Suspends Returns, 29 January 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3dCL8Vt and OVG, In Griechenland anerkannte Schutzberechtigte dürfen derzeit nicht rücküberstellt warden, 26 January 2021, available in German at : https://bit.ly/3auaVgy

[14] Niedersachsen oberverwaltungsgericht, 19 April 2021, In Griechenland anerkannte Flüchtlinge dürfen derzeit nicht dorthin rücküberstellt warden, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3eopXWj

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation