Uncertainty is rife among refugees on Greek soil as no one has told them what will happen next or how to proceed. Germany’s interior minister has offered help to Athens, but downplayed the seriousness of their situation. EURACTIV’s partner Tagesspiegel reports.
On Friday (11 March), more than 3,000 refugees were in Athens’ main port of Piraeus, many of them huddled in tents. They are merely a fraction of the other tens of thousands of refugees currently on Greek soil, from the Aegean islands to the northern camp of Idomeni on the FYRO Macedonian border.
“The biggest problem is that they don’t know what to do next,” said Nikitas Kanakis, head of Doctors of the World’s Greek branch, adding, “no one has explained to them what will happen next”. He predicted that the number of refugees arriving in Piraeus will only increase, due to the number of people still arriving on the Greek islands in the Aegean. “In Piraeus, it is only volunteers and human rights organisations that are helping refugees, the State is doing nothing visible,” he said.
Greece is in dire straits, since the Balkan countries decided to establish border controls and effectively close the Balkan route. In October, Athens made assurances that the country would be able to accommodate some 50,000 refugees, but that was based on the understanding that people would be moved on within a few days.
According to Christos Katsioulis, head of the Social Democratic Party-affiliated Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Athens, Greece only has the capacity to keep between 13,000 and 15,000 refugees. This figure is set to increase as new accommodation is being built in the areas where it is needed most.
Extra places will be essential, given the forecasts of Greek politicians. EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos predicted that the number of refugees in Greece will reach 100,000 by the end of March. Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias sees the situation as being even more dire and expects 150,000.
The spokesperson for the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR), Melissa Fleming, told Der Tagesspiegel that the situation for refugees in Greece is “miserable and chaotic”. The Idomeni camp looks as if it was built on top of a ploughed field, because of the mud and weather conditions, and frustration and despair is spreading through the people who are forced to call it home.
“UNHCR is going to help Greece improve conditions and promote the redistribution of Syrians and Iraqis,” she added. “Greece is not in a position to cope with these refugees alone,” Fleming said. According to UNHCR 26% of the 140,000 refugees that have arrived in Greece since the beginning of the year have been from Afghanistan. Syrians make up about 48% and Iraqis 17%.
Meanwhile, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière insisted that refugees in the Idomeni camp be provided with decent living conditions. “It is not too much to ask that people be given at least that,” said the CDU politician on Thursday (10 March). De Maizière explained that he offered his Greek counterpart assistance.
However, he did point out that Greece “hasn’t received nearly as many refugees as Germany and Austria did last year”. He added that it is “quite reasonable” that a country of 11 million people accommodates 30,000 to 40,000 refugees. The Interior Minister highlighted that Austria, a nation of some 9 million people, received between 90,000 and 100,000 refugees last year.
This article was also published by EURACTIV Germany.