Emergency Action: Providing Urgent Humanitarian Aid to Syrian Refugees in Greece
Project location: GREECE
Project start date: September 2015 - Project end date: December 2015
Project number: 2015-027
The crisis in the Mediterranean is becoming increasingly precarious, with more boat crossings during the first half of 2015 than all of 2014. European countries have seen over 127,000 arrivals so far, compared to less than 50,000 in total last year. Families are fleeing fighting and destruction in countries like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea and deciding to risk the perilous journey by sea, despite the financial and human cost involved. This means unprecedented numbers of refugees are arriving on European shores, having suffered severe trauma to get there. And with many European countries putting restriction measures in place, they face increasingly difficult reception.
Tragically, we are seeing an increase in the numbers of unaccompanied children. Babies, young children and the elderly are especially vulnerable, many of them suffering from malnutrition, heat exhaustion and sickness. Too many others never even reach safety at all, perishing at sea. Since January 2015, over 1,800 people have died at sea.
While this crisis in the Mediterranean has been affecting Spain and Italy, Greece as well, Greece is now utterly overwhelmed, with as many as 600 people arriving every day. To date, over 100,000 have arrived in 2015. Over 60% of those fleeing are women and children, the majority refugees and asylum seekers forced to flee from volatile countries. Over 60% of the people arriving are from Syria, a further 20% from Afghanistan and the rest from Iraq and other countries. Having faced ongoing conflict and trauma at home, they had to make the tough decision to leave everything behind and seek peace and security, somewhere with food, water, shelter, medical attention and education for their children. Many have survived harrowing journeys, being separated from their families and friends, witnessing loved ones be killed, drown or become gravely ill along the way.
Families who are forced to flee their homes to avoid fighting and violence have the right to access life-saving asylum and safety. We need to ensure they are received and registered quickly and properly. The authorities in Greece are both sympathetic and committed to doing this, but given the national financial crisis already paralyzing the country, they lack the resources and capacity required. The small Greek communities where boats are landing simply cannot cope.
With the average Greek citizen unable to make ends meet, these tiny islands and villages do not have even the most basic infrastructure or services in place to receive, register or care for these vulnerable families. Nevertheless, host communities have been doing what they can to support the new arrivals. Despite struggling themselves, they have been collecting and distributing food, water and other basic supplies, and even offering medical attention.
UNHCR is focusing on short-term interventions in Greece that are most desperately needed over the next 6 months - before European Union policies and measures are put in place for the longer term, in close coordination and agreement with the Greek authorities.
While UNHCR's remit is to support the needs of refugees and asylum seekers in every country, Greece is under particular strain at the moment and the effect on anyone newly arriving is therefore all the more extreme. Reception facilities and systems in Italy are stretched, but they do at least exist, whereas in many of the parts of Greece where refugees are coming ashore, there is not even a police presence to help cope with the influx.
Ordinarily, UNHCR would offer basic cash assistance to the people in our care so that they help local economies by buying the food and other items they need to survive, but right now in Greece there is no proper infrastructure and so it is irrelevant to provide this higher level of support. UNHCR would ordinarily prefer cash assistance as a method of support in situations like these as we always think carefully about the effect of free goods versus supporting the local economy particularly when local people are struggling so much. But this emergency situation is exceptional and we need to respond with exceptional measures. We have to start with the basics and make sure that shelter and medical care are available immediately so that families can survive any illnesses or injuries they have suffered on their journey to seek safety. At least then we can be sure they will not have fled one life-threatening crisis for another
Since the beginning of the crisis, UNHCR has been working to register all new arrivals and identify vulnerable cases - such as unaccompanied children, pregnant women, young children and the elderly, sick or injured. We have also been prioritising refugees from Syria, as they make up the majority of arrivals. A site planner has been deployed to Greece and has been undertaking assessments of possible temporary accommodation sites in coordination with the local authorities. In order to store food donations given generously by local communities, we purchased a refrigerator for an arrivals' base in Kos. UNHCR has also been cleaning reception centres to make them more habitable and making sure trash bins are available to help keep places sanitary. Being a UN organisation, we are in a unique position to negotiate with government authorities on how to manage this situation: how to choose the best reception locations and expand services to meet this unprecedented demand.
Over the next 6 months, UNHCR plans to carry out the following activities:
- Medical support for search and rescue operations: UNHCR will provide medical support and survivor packs for the Greek authorities to use on board their search and rescue operations. Life-saving supplies on board include resuscitation equipment, oxygen, masks and surgical gloves. Rescue kits to be given out to every survivor contain a towel, thermal blanket, bottled water, an energy bar, dry clothes and shoes.
- Setting up reception centres: UNHCR will provide pre-fabricated containers, fully wired with existing booths, that provide privacy and can be used as waiting areas, registration venues and preliminary medical sites where asylum seekers can receive vital medical care for injuries they may have carried all the way from Syria, Iraq or other places, as well as any ailments sustained during the journey by sea. These will be set up at the main points of landing in Samothraki, Ikaria, Agathonisi and each container will include an allocation of mattresses, mats, blankets and chemical toilets (along with maintenance required). Medical packs will also be provided with enough supplies for reception centres across 6 islands for 3 months. Basic packs include paracetamol, dressings & antibiotics for treating infections, sunburn and dehydration, while more expensive kits include ultrasound equipment and gynecological chairs for monitoring expectant mothers and providing medical care for anyone who has been abused or raped.
- Providing accommodation and registration services, and reaching small island communities: UNHCR plans to renovate derelict buildings, installing plumbing, wiring, flooring, toilets and kitchen facilities, as well as reinstating doors and windows to create safe emergency accommodation for the most vulnerable arrivals, including older people and women and children. Asylum seekers can receive urgent medical attention and be registered by the authorities so that they are back on the international radar and support can reach them. UNHCR will deploy 12 specialist Border-Based Information Officers to make sure all new arrivals are properly processed where they come ashore. We will provide registration equipment, including 8 EURODAC finger-printing machines, IT equipment, and internet access and office supplies. We will also pay travel costs to bring the Greek authorities to the main asylum seeker locations to help them connect with the laws that protect them as refugees. This will help them provide support in areas where there are no facilities or regular police to help them extend the registration process (Evros, Lesvos, Telos, Leros, Samos, Kos and Rhodes).
- Providing shelter, water and hygiene kits: We will distribute basic items such as tents, sleeping mats, sleeping bags, water bottles, and provide hygiene kits for more than 53,000 people to help them with the very basics they need to survive.
- Support for children travelling alone: We will provide specialist support to children and young people who have arrived alone or, worse, been orphaned on route. Local NGOs on the ground will be trained to provide safe accommodation and protection for these especially vulnerable children.
- Communications support: UNHCR will deploy professional multimedia teams and communications staff to update media, the general public and donors of the situation and developments on the ground. This will help ensure survivors can hear news about their loved ones, and help us to maintain our advocacy efforts to bring more support to people in this extremely vulnerable situation.
The Nando Peretti Foundation has awarded a grant for this project to help UNHCR step up its support so that it can assist the people and the Families who are forced to flee their homes to avoid violence and who are arriving on Greek shores in seek of security.
The main focus now is to make sure that shelter and medical care are available immediately so that families can survive any illnesses or injuries they have suffered on their journey to seek safety
These are the main expected outcomes of the intervention:
- Refugees and Asylum seekers receive medical care
- Refugees and Asylum seekers are provided with shelter and hygienic kits
- Vulnerable children receive special support