In January 2022 a rare and severe snowstorm hit Greece. Many of the camps that host people on the move in mainland Greece are not designed to handle these types of extreme weather conditions. For the people outside the camps, conditions are potentially even worse.
There are two core areas on the Greek mainland where NGOs are based, Thessaloniki and Athens. In the north of Greece, in Thessaloniki, displaced people may seek permanent residence or prepare to travel further west. Athens is most commonly where people are relocated from the Aegean Islands after their asylum applications have been processed. Recently, people have been transferred off the Greek islands while their asylum cases are still being processed. Some people seek permanent residence in Athens, while others only stay until arrangements are made for resettlement elsewhere in Europe.
The Aegean Islands are a group of small Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, located just a few kilometres west of Turkey. Their proximity to the Turkish coast makes them a destination for many people seeking safety in Europe. However, smugglers have employed life-threatening and money-saving tactics, such as using unsuitable boats, providing insufficient fuel to complete the crossing, supplying fake or no lifejackets, and sending boats despite poor sea conditions.
Greece has been moving towards a US-style detention and deportation system. Greece recently took over responsibility for making cash support payments to asylum seekers from the UNHCR but tethered it to detention and cut large numbers of recipients from receiving aid. This is creating a human rights and hunger crisis. A €130 million project funded by the EU commission to build camps on Samos, Kos and Leros is now complete. Plans remain to build closed facilities on Lesvos and Chios. Humanitarians have concerns about camp conditions: insufficient access to education for children, insufficient services to residents, restrictions on human rights observation, and limited freedoms for asylum seekers to come and go.
In both cities and surrounding areas, there are some formal camps, as well as people living in squats, apartments, or without any shelter. The camps on the mainland are following the trends seen on the Aegean Islands, with high concrete walls being built around them, echoing the detention centre style of accommodation. The living conditions in the detention centres are often deplorable. In Eleonas, close to Athens, overcrowding and low maintenance are significant issues. As the registration procedure gets stricter, many are told they are not “vulnerable enough” for shelter, food, or monetary aid.