Over the past week we have used our Facebook page to reach out to refugees and asylum seekers in Greece, providing a space for them to ask questions about all aspects of the asylum process. Between 1-7 August, we reached over 56,000 people, and assisted people with enquiries relating to a range of subjects, from the EU relocation process, to medical services within central Athens. We have also visited camps and urban spaces in the region, to spread awareness about the group as a community resource for refugees and asylum seekers within Greece.
We have also recruited a number of volunteers back home in the UK, who have generously agreed to spend some time each week researching and responding to these enquiries. For more information, please contact [email protected]
From 14th July the Asylum Service started pre-registration of asylum seekers residing in urban (non-camp) settings. Asylum Links EU has been providing information on the process to these people, working closely with UNHCR, who provided some resources, but asked us to design the strategy. Because there are many vulnerable and isolated people residing in cities, we feel it is important they know they can choose to access official refugee protection if they want to.
Last week, the team members were spreading information around Central Thessaloniki and the surrounding camps. One of the areas that we focused on was that immediately surrounding the train station in Thessiloniki. More than 400 people (mainly of Afghan and Pakistani origin) were staying homeless around the station. We put up posters containing all the official information on the pre-registration process, the times and deadlines to get pre-registered by and how to reach the office in several languages, in all areas that had a visible refugee presence.
While doing so we found other organizations providing these refugees with the basic needs such as food and hygiene items.
We also visited Sindos-Frakapor military camp and spent some time speaking with Syrian Kurds who have been living in the camp since 25 May, after the closure of Idomeni. We were told that approximately 600 to 700 people live in the warehouse turned camp which means it is at full capacity. According to UNCHR information 90% of refugees are Syrian, 7% Iraqi and 3% other, and of this 60% are children, 25% women and 15% men. The shelters provided are 12 square meter army tents within the warehouse space, and over 20 of these tents located outside the warehouse in the hot Greek summer sun.
Meals are provided daily three times by the Greek army but are complained of being very repetitive consisting of “pasta, potato, pasta, potato, every day”. Breakfast is made up of one packaged croissant and a cartoon of orange juice. At times volunteers are able to gain access to the camp to distribute other food types, but this does not occur daily.
Although there is a doctor available on site twice daily, morning and evening, residents are disappointed by the standard of the service and are only provided the exact amount of medication needed for a short time. We spoke with one young Syrian woman who is a diabetic and is now pregnant and is not receiving any extra supplements which is a huge concern considering the lack of nutrients in the food she is receiving in the camp.
Residents have been told daily that the camp will be receive WIFI “tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow” but have now been waiting for this tomorrow for almost a month and a half. We also noticed an issue with clothing supply and one resident complained by pointing out the poor quality of the shoes and clothes he was wearing.
We distributed information packs to residents and accepted the kind offer of a refugee who took more to distribute himself. We now have shared contact details with a number of camp representative who will contact us when they have questions or need further information. We aim to return to do a workshop once the pre-registration exercise moves to its next stage - the Full Hosting Interviews.
Our current funding provides a budget to cover transport costs and expenses to initially visit the first batch of camps, distributing information sheets and building a network of camp residents willing to act as focal points to spread this information to communities within the camps themselves.
Hard copies of information are printed, updated and tailored to the needs of camps across Greece. We have created materials to run workshops tailored to the needs of different camps and social centres, distributing paper copies to individuals and in bulk to communities who wish to hand them out themselves.
Having undertaken the project in the North and West of Greece, more funding is desperately needed as we expand south towards Athens. A key expenditure is for petrol and basic running costs to allow our trained volunteers to visit camps, give out information and run drop-in clinics where info sheets can be explained and specific questions answered. The running costs are significant: we have established that we will need to visit camps regularly in order to research and update information to respond to inquiries related to different communities and camp locations.
A network of camp residents will be formed who will be able to disseminate up-to-date information to their own communities within the camps through contact with the Asylum Links team. By linking our networks of refugees and field workers, we'll undertake case-based support work to assist the asylum application process and increase access to services.
Asylum Links intends to become a network hub by which refugees and asylum seekers can be redirected to information and services as they require them. Our key asset lies in our ability to bridge the gaps in the process as it currently stands; providing tailored and personal links between the intended recipients and the groups and agencies currently tasked with providing information and administrating asylum procedures.
We have officially partnered with the NGO Advocates Abroad, which means that we can refer clients for legal assistance. They advise us weekly on the progressing situation across the country, we have an agreement to help with their clients in the north and they are preparing to send us lawyers to accompany us on specific tasks.
We provide general information, signposting towards relevant materials and referral to other qualified aid workers. We have distributed primary information in the form of the UNHCR Europe Asylum Interview Toolkit and the Government of Greece/UNHCR guidance on the Greek Pre-registration/ asylum/relocation/family reunification exercise. This exercise is the key development for refugees who are stuck in Greece - how they access asylum or get transferred to another country. So far we have visited over 30 camps across the country, as well as Thessaloniki and Athens city centres, reaching over nearly 15,000 people.
We have also joined with other groups to run workshops at a number of different camps, enabling us to hear specific problems and direct refugees to the relevant information using sources like - EASO, Eurostats, Greek Asylum Service, News that Moves and Are You Syrious?
We have also assisted UNHCR on the Thessaloniki Urban Registration efforts. Most of the refugee camps in the north have had stage 1 on the pre-registration process (they have been registered but not yet had their first full interview). Drop-in registration is now available for two weeks to those who are homeless or residing in accommodation outside of camps. Asylum Links has been leading on distribution this information in squats and urban centres.
Asylum Links EU distributes a range of up-to-date information to refugees in camps and living in urban centres. We hold information drop-in clinics, provide services and conduct research to provide info (both requested by refugees and provided by official sources) about registration in Greece and asylum choices in Europe. We work to bridge gaps on the ground by distributing translated documentation and links so that refugees can make informed choices about their future. This will lead to
• Better informed access to Asylum procedures.
• Reduced vulnerability from risks posed by issues such as homelessness, smuggling, predatory employment and mis-processing by national authorities.
• Assisting Asylum seekers in the choices they make regarding camp and non-camp accommodation, as well as decisions about issues such as where they wish to settle, how they approach family reunification, what options are available regarding access to key services and livelihood opportunities.
Having piloted a program offering information services in Calais, we took the project to Greece in May 2016, during a critical time strategically, as the Greek Government/UNHCR has embarked on the Refugee Registration Program, dispersing refugees and asylum seekers from established camps such as Idomeni to uncertain destinations. There is widespread fear among asylum seekers as to how these new agreements will affect them and uncertainty about the choices that are available to them.
The extent to which people are aware of their rights and the services available to them plays a big factor in whether such rights and provisions are ultimately provided. We provide up to date information to inform choices, and we will work to understand find what information refugees and asylum seekers want to know but cannot access. The Asylum Links Team will cascade this information to lead agencies such as UNHCR, working to research and fill the knowledge gaps wherever possible.
We are proactively researching the processes and procedures taking place on the ground, making use of internet resources and a network of caseworkers operating across Europe. We are continually compiling and distributing existing documentation/guidance; producing template information sheets that can be adapted to reflect up to date, accurate information in line with the ever changing situation on the ground.
We have talked to hundreds of people during the past two months, including refugees, volunteers and humanitarian professionals. Their feedback has guided our planning.
"This is useful to me, I speak good English, but this information is understood easy, my friends need information they can understand with little English."
Eritrean Refugee, Calais
"I need a lawyer for my case! Where do I go for this?"
Iraqi Refugee, Athens
"I know that registration is happening, but I have not seen this information"
Iraqi Refugee, Athens
"People don't always believe the information is real. Many think NGOs and volunteers work for the government. The situation changes so quickly"
Iranian Refugee, Thessaloniki
"I want to join my husband in Germany, but to do this I didn't realise that I should request this in Greece"
Afghan Refugee, Ioannina
We are a small group of volunteers and aid workers who came together through our work in the refugee camps in the Calais region of France during the last quarter of 2015.
In Calais we distributed food and clothing, built shelters and contributed to community discussions with camp residents and organisations on the ground, regarding the day to day and future requirements of the camp, advocating for the rights of the camp residents during the recent wide-scale evictions. Our group offers a range of skills and experience including direct case work, counselling, logistics, advocacy, negotiation, grassroots activism and public policy.
We need public donations to keep the project sustainable and reach the people who are most at risk. Please consider supporting our work!
Across Europe, refugees remain hugely vulnerable and isolated. Often unsure of how to best protect themselves and seek advice, they make important decisions based on incorrect information. This results in panic and lots of rumors. Asylum Links EU is there to help make sure refugees are informed of their rights and get up-to-date knowledge of the asylum interview process
In collaboration with key agencies, we provide official information and guidance about the registration process to refugees in camps and urban centres, so that they can access the protection they so desperately need. We understand the power and importance of refugee community networks, and our work complements these by enabling refugees to access a wider range of officially authorised advice and information, providing signposts to help access the services available to them and understand their rights as asylum seekers.