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From Chaos in Moria to Despair in Athens, Greece

Refugees Live Rough on the Streets of Central Athens

A woman and her children sitting in Victoria Square in Athens, Greece, awaiting transfer, are among the thousands of refugees summarily evicted from their residence by the government. © 2020 AFP

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the Greek government announced that it was throwing more than 11,000 refugees out on the street, including families with children, pregnant women, and women who are alone in Greece, as well as people with disabilities and older people.

Starting on June 1st, refugees were told to leave government-provided housing in apartments, hotels, and camps. Also, EU cash assistance ends once people are formally recognized as refugees, leaving them without support.

In August, Basira, a 21-year-old woman from Afghanistan who is alone in Greece, told me that she was given just a few days to leave her tent in Moria camp, on Lesbos island, after she was granted asylum. “They cut the cash assistance and told me I have to go,” she said. “They said that if they come again and find me [in the tent] they will take me by force. I felt fear and despair because I am on my own, I didn’t know where to go.” 

Like many refugees in her situation, Basira left the island for mainland Greece, and was living in central Athens’ Viktoria square. There, dozens of families are sleeping on blankets or pieces of cardboard in stifling heat. I saw children playing near dangerous electric wires and garbage. Migrant associations and some citizens are distributing food and water, but nearby shop owners are increasingly hostile.

On at least three occasions, the police have rounded people up, sometimes using threats and force, to take them to a temporary camp outside Athens. A 75-year-old man from Afghanistan told me riot police beat him twice with a baton on August 2 for objecting to relocation.

Although refugees are legally entitled to look for work and independent housing, lengthy and complex bureaucratic procedures mean many wait weeks or months for documents allowing them to support themselves. Making things worse, the government announced plans to shut at least 60 out of the 92 reception facilities on mainland Greece.

The UN special rapporteur on the right to housing has warned that when people are deprived of shelter, they become more at risk to Covid-19. He called on governments to halt evictions until the pandemic ends.

Greek authorities should listen and provide suitable alternatives to refugees on the streets, particularly families with children, people with disabilities, older persons, and single women.

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