Refugee women in the offside
Greece encampment policy and services takeover lead to isolation and deny protection
Remote refugee camps, now dubbed “Controlled Access Centres”, are the only shelter option available to asylum seekers in Greece since the government closed down the “ESTIA II” decentralised accommodation program at the end of 2022. Placement in camps throughout the mainland is decided by the Reception and Identification Service (RIS) based on available capacity. Accepting such a placement is a precondition for receiving reception conditions during the asylum process under EU and domestic rules, including a monthly financial allowance.
With Greece’s plan to transform all existing facilities into Closed Controlled Centres progressing, the Ministry of Migration and Asylum is proceeding with the takeover of services provided inside the camps. This has led to the gradual phasing out and departure of “Site Management Support” services formerly provided by the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), reportedly completed by 20 March 2023. Key services including hours-long transportation of camp residents to urban centres for medical appointments, asylum interviews or other purposes have been stopped altogether.
Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) spoke to refugee women from Afghanistan who live in different camps in mainland Greece. They describe a life on the sidelines, cut off from Greek society and support structures based in urban centres. They feel alone, afraid, depressed and desperate. Most of them have only recently escaped their country and fled the Taliban regime, violence and life-threatening personal circumstances, but have not yet found the time or an appropriate environment to heal from terror.
They are single mothers, married or separated/divorced women. They have spent most of their time in Greece inside their containers, within the walls and fences of the refugee camps. They need specialised medical or psychological treatment and legal support. Meanwhile, delays in the registration of asylum claims or subsequent applications deprive them of financial support for months and leave them dependent on free food catering by the state to survive.
The women describe the financial and practical obstacles they face to leave the camps and reach services based in the cities, lack of information and orientation and undignified situations once using public transportation without tickets. The current decrease / end of services run until recently by IOM inside the camps has created further stress to them as they worry to face complete lack of support in matters of legal advice, psycho-social support, referrals or transportation from now on.
Rukhsane* (29), single mother of two minors living in Alexandria camp
"We are in Greece four months now. It's been one month since we were registered and they sent us to a camp near Thessaloniki away from our lawyer in Athens. Most people here are from other countries, speaking other languages. I haven't got used to this place. I feel very depressed and lonely. I bring my one child to school in the morning, and the other one in the evening. That's the only thing I do every day. Thessaloniki is about one hour far from here with the bus and the ride costs around 9 Euro per person. I had to take my older son with me, so that I don’t get lost in the city. I have only left the camp a few times until now, once to visit a psychologist in Thessaloniki, three times to go to the hospital in Veria and once to go to a nearby supermarket to buy oil and onions. I received my monthly allowances for the first time a week ago and I spent almost half of it for our transportation to doctors and hospitals, so we depend on the food given to us inside the camp, although it's barely edible."
Shabnam* (26) from Afghanistan, living in Malakasa camp with her husband
"I would like to go to Athens sometimes to search for language classes, find some humanitarian help and just see something else, but going there is expensive for people like us, who are in Greece for months now without any state help. We don't have the money to pay 8 Euros for the train. We have only been to Athens a few times in order to find a lawyer, but we had to go there without a ticket. When we were checked, I gave them whatever money I had in coins. I am always scared that I will be kicked out from the train. We haven't yet received our Cash-Card because we waited three months for the registration of our asylum application. For the Cash-Card of the last two months, we were told that we need to wait for our transfer to another camp. I am getting desperate because we stay inside the camp all the time and they just tell us to wait. Life is hard in this situation."
Fauzia* (27) from Afghanistan, single mother of two minors living in Malakasa camp
"I have been waiting for my registration for three months. During the last two months, we are not anymore permitted to leave the camp because we still have no documents. They told me last week that I wasn’t even allowed to go out for my asylum registration appointment. Now they told us that we would be registered inside this camp within the next 25 days. My children and myself feel worse since when we cannot go outside. Security checks everybody’s papers during entry and exit. My one child is the only one that can go outside, when the bus takes her to school. We spend most of our time inside our container. I am scared to move around inside the camp, because of the many men. I feel scared even inside our container. The camp provides us a roof over our heads but it is not the place to heal and integrate."
Wahida* (34) single mother from Afghanistan, living in Malakasa camp
"I feel like I am living in hell. I have been in Greece for three months now, but time feels like not passing. I am so stressed about my asylum interview, that will take place in a few days. I just feel desperate and afraid most of the time. I stay inside the container with the lights off. I have been in Athens only to visit my psychologist and my lawyer. I received the financial support last month for the first time. In the beginning I had no help. I had to take the train to visit my psychologist but I had no money for the ticket. I could register my asylum application after some weeks, and only after that I received the Cash-Card. In the meanwhile, IOM started helping me with my transfers to Athens. But now they told me that they have stopped working in the camp and they'll only come for urgent cases. That makes me more worried. I even lost my last appointment with the psychologist in Athens because the transportation services were cut and there are still no trains. I feel a lot of pressure and stress."
Robina* (33) from Afghanistan, single mother of three minors living in Malakasa camp
"I have been in Greece for four years. My asylum application was rejected twice, I have no valid documents and no money for four months. I am desperate. I am alone with my children. I tried to find help in order to get my new application registered faster, because we are in a very bad situation, but everywhere I went they told me it's not possible. The internet wasn't working and then, when it did, I got an appointment for after a long time. I have lost all hope. My psychological situation has got worse. I felt unseen, unheard and without help, until I found a lawyer to help me. I have no money to go to Athens, thus I go without a ticket since I have no choice and need legal help. When they check the tickets in the train I feel a lot of shame. Sometimes they understand our problems, because we say we live in the camp, and they accept us to give them 1 or 2 Euros, whatever we have. But sometimes they insist we should pay the full ticket price or else step out of the train. They even stopped the train once, but there was a nice Greek lady who gave me the money at the last moment. This was a very bad feeling."
Zahra* (37) from Afghanistan, mother living in Schisto camp with her husband and their two daughters
"I go in the city of Athens and out of the camp only once a month since we arrived here. It's a one-hour drive and I must buy tickets for my children and myself. Since I rarely go out, I don't know any places in Athens and I get easily lost. In the beginning, when we still had no Cash-Card, I went once with the metro to a hospital and I got a 72 Euro fine for not holding a ticket. That was all the money I had at that point, but I paid it to avoid further troubles. I have various health problems, so I leave the camp mainly to go to doctors. In the camp there are no classes. I spend most of my time taking care of my two daughters, their school and hobbies. In Afghanistan they had no access to nothing. I want them now to have everything they wish for. It is not easy to live with a family in a small container inside a camp, but, to be honest, the important thing is we escaped the violence we suffered in Afghanistan."
Feruza* (25) from Afghanistan, living in Thiva camp with her husband and their two children
"It took us five months to be able to register our asylum application. We had only a police paper, but it expired. My husband even got arrested once, when he tried to bring some food from Athens and was detained for a few days. We are without money until now, but still we had to pay to go to Malakasa for our registration. Until recently there was a free bus from the camp to Athens but it stopped functioning right before we had to go for our registration. In the camp they give us food, but it's sometimes barely edible. In the past, we used to go sometimes to Athens with that bus. In Athens we would find some humanitarian help from different organisations that provide us with small bags with food and hygiene items for free. It will take at least one more month until we get financial help from the government, that’s what we were told. We have to walk for one hour to take the public bus to Athens, and then pay 16 Euro per person to go and return. We don't have this money. So we just wait inside the camp. We don't go anywhere anymore."
Shirin* (46) from Afghanistan, living in Thiva camp with her minor son
“I arrived in Greece with my two sons, but one of them was returned back to Turkey. Our group was separated at the borders. I couldn’t do anything. We arrived in Athens and found ourselves without a place to sleep and with no news from my child. I am very worried and I cannot think clearly. After registering our asylum application, we waited in the Malakasa camp until they transferred us to Thiva. After that, I came to Athens only twice to meet my lawyer. There was a free bus twice a week until recently, but now they have stopped it. I asked my lawyers, how would we go to our asylum interview in Athens? We have to be there early in the morning and there is no bus. They told me that unfortunately the authorities have said you have to cover the transport cost yourself.”
Residents of refugee camps that provide for catering receive 75 Euros per adult, 135 per couple or single headed family with one child, 160 for a three-person family and 210 for four headed or larger core families. See: https://help.unhcr.org/greece/living-in-greece/access-to-cash-assistance/ ↑
See: https://www.hellenicparliament.gr/UserFiles/67715b2c-ec81-4f0c-ad6a-476a34d732bd/12249704.pdf ↑
Information provided by the Controlled Access Centre of Thiva, 8 March 2023. ↑