During 2015 and 2016, more than 1 million refugees and migrants the majority of who escaped war and persecution from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, have reached Greece to find safety in Europe. This has led to one of the most complex and large scale humanitarian challenges of the last decades in the European continent. Following the closure of the ”Balkan Route” in March 2016, tens of thousands of persons remaining in the mainland and the islands were in dire need of accommodation and other humanitarian assistance including information and facilitation for legal routes in order to rebuild their life. Since March 2016, following the EU-Turkey Statement, the arrivals have significantly decreased. Currently, Greece hosts about 50,000 refugees and migrants from those that arrived in the country since the summer of 2015 onwards. Many of them are eligible for relocation (a procedure that has been concluded for most of the beneficiaries) or family reunification to another European Union (E.U.) Member State.
In September 2015, the E.U. and its Member States agreed to a two-year plan for the relocation of a total of 160,000 asylum-seekers, mainly from Greece (66,400) and Italy to other European countries. In this framework, in October 2015, UNHCR committed to support the Greek Government in its efforts to increase the country’s reception places for asylum-seekers. Thus, the program “Provision of support to Greece for the implementation of the hotspots/relocation scheme and the increase of the asylum-seekers’ reception capacity” was designed to be implemented with the funding from the European Commission aiming to gradually establish 20,000 reception places for refugees eligible for relocation to other E.U. Member States, as well as for vulnerable asylum seekers in Greece.
In 2017, the project continues in the framework of ESTIA (Emergency Support To Integration and Accommodation), addressed generally to asylum seekers with priority given to the most vulnerable. In particular, the Greek government, in collaboration and with the funding of the European Commission, decided to increase the number of apartments for asylum seekers and in parallel to proceed to the gradual closure of a number of camps. UNHCR welcomed this decision and works towards establishing additional apartments all over Greece, in close collaboration with the Ministry of Migration and the respective Local Authorities.