By Liene Veide in Thessaloniki, Greece
Some 120 refugees and migrants that spent months in the old warehouse SK Market in the North of Greece are sleeping in hotel beds since earlier last week. This is the latest evacuation from warehouses to better accommodation bringing the number of warehouses closed for the time being up to three.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has been transferring people from the government-run refugee sites and other places to accommodation buildings for almost a year already, however with the winter on the doorstep and deteriorating weather conditions, the Agency, at the request of the coordinating Ministry of Migration Policy, boosted the transfers from particularly exposed sites, and other actors supported this joint effort to offer better living conditions. The latest transfer was carried out by the International Organization for Migration while UNHCR was monitoring.
Winter in northern Greece was very harsh with temperatures dropping below zero during the night, making it especially hard for those residing in sites inside and around warehouses in the area. On the very last day of January, close to 50 residents of the Frakapor warehouse probably did not feel the cold air that much – for the first time this winter. Time had finally come for them to board a UNHCR chartered bus to leave this refugee site for good. All of them are now hosted in hotels at special rates under the accommodation scheme UNHCR is running in Greece.
Refugees and migrants on warehouse sites were still sleeping in tents, pitched inside on the ground inside the old industrial buildings. UNHCR’s effort to put wooden flooring under these tents helped to improve the situation a little bit but not for long, as the temperatures kept dropping down to -10 C at some sites during the night. In early December, together with the responsible Ministry, five warehouse sites (Oreakastro, Frakapor, Karamalis, Kalahori/SK Market, and Redestos/Vasiliska) were prioritized for people to be moved out of tents to hotel rooms and apartment buildings. Oreakastro warehouse used to be one of the biggest refugee accommodation sites in northern Greece, more than 1000 have been moved to other accommodation during the past months. Redestos/Vasilika once used to host around 700 persons, of whom almost no one is left at the site today.
More at unhcr.gr