Accommodation shortage in Greece: Why it’s happening

Since Refugee.Info started, we’ve received messages from asylum-seekers and refugees in Greece unable to find a safe place to stay— especially recently.

We know many people in Greece, including families and children, are living without appropriate housing.

In response to your messages about this serious problem, we've compiled our best information on the housing situation right now, and on how Greece plans to address the issue.

Why is accommodation especially scarce right now?

As many of you know firsthand, accommodation facilities across Greece are currently overcrowded and over capacity. In large part, that’s due to 2 factors:

1. The increase in arrivals in Northern Greece

In April, the number of people crossing the Evros River into Northern Greece rose dramatically. Now an estimated 1,700 people in the area are unregistered, lacking basic services, and staying in makeshift accommodation.

2. A slowing of transfers from the islands to the mainland

Organized transfers of refugees from the islands to the mainland have been delayed because there aren’t enough places on the mainland.

Camps on the islands of Lesvos, Samos and Chios are all overflowing, with those on Leros and Kos almost or slightly above capacity. Moria alone has the capacity of 3,000 people, but it’s currently hosting more than double that number.

Many camps now have tents temporarily set up outside the camps’ borders.

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What is Greece doing to meet our need for accommodation?

The Greek government is reopening camps to meet the increasing demand for housing. However, they have been slow to create enough places in both camps and in urban accommodation.

On mainland Greece, the government has reopened camps in:

  • Elefsina
  • Oinofyta
  • Volos

NGOs report that these sites were reopened hastily, without the necessary preparation, and people who were transferred to them now lack basic services, especially medical services.

Why can’t they add more places to stay more quickly?

Greek authorities did not anticipate the recent increase in arrivals.

The Ministry of Defense planned to hand over management of mainland camps to the Ministry of Migration Policy in the beginning of 2018, but this has yet to happen.

As a result, the vast majority of the 28 camps operating on mainland Greece lack central site management by government. The government’s absence has created further delays in registering newly arrived refugees in these camps.

What does Greece plan to do about this problem?

The Greek Ministry of Migration Policy is trying to find ways to cover the accommodation needs for a total of 66,000 people. This is the number of refugees estimated to remain in Greece in 2018.

We’ve heard that there’s enough funding to create a total of 20,000 places in camps and 27,000 places in urban accommodation by the end of the year. Unfortunately, these new places still won’t cover everyone looking for housing.

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The mainland

According to discussions among NGOs and government officials that Refugee.Info attended, the Greek government plans to open a new camp in Vagiochori, in Central Macedonia, with 70 big tents and in Karavomilos, close to the city of Volos with the capacity of around 1,000 places. However, this information is still not confirmed and the Greek Ministry of Migration Policy often does not announce the opening of new camps ahead of time.

We also learned that the Greek Ministry of Migration Policy is researching funding to create more than 1,400 “emergency places” in existing camps. This usually mean tents or communal spaces.

The Greek Ministry of Migration Policy also plans to increase the number of permanent places available in camps on mainland Greece. They plan to add more than 2,500 new places in containers and apartments. This increase is not expected to happen before September.

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The islands

A recent news report from eKathimerini mentioned that there are also plans to create new reception facilities for asylum-seekers on Lesvos. Locals on the island are demonstrating against these plans.

This update comes after rioting at the severely overcrowded Moria camp in late May prompted hundreds of Kurdish refugees to abandon the premises. The government has not made any official announcement about this yet.

Recently, Greece passed a new asylum bill that aims to help with the overcrowding on the island’s refugee camps by making the asylum procedures simpler and faster.

At Refugee.Info we are currently compiling information on the new asylum bill and will share it soon.

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What about urban accommodation?

The UNHCR accommodation scheme, which provides 25,000 places in apartments for vulnerable groups, is also at full capacity. The few available places remaining are reserved for planned transfers, especially for vulnerable people who are waiting for Family Reunification in another European country.

UNHCR’s accommodation partners have agreed to add 2,000 more places by the end of 2018 as funding has been secured, but the plan hasn’t moved forward yet.

According to a group of NGOs, the Greek government has asked for additional funding in order to create another 3,000 places in apartments, but there hasn’t been an official response yet.

To learn more about accommodation options in Greece, you can read here or send us a message on Facebook.