Athens cash office closes as refugees protest delays

Protesters are occupying the Athens cash office over long wait times for cash cards.

Employees left the cash office last Monday after police evacuated them, and it's not clear when they will return. The Greece Cash Alliance (GCA) hotline has temporarily stopped taking new registrations as well.

The protest began amid refugees’ complaints about major delays in issuing cash cards.

While UNHCR is responsible for cash assistance in Greece, its partner CRS processes applications in Attica and issues cards to qualified applicants at the Athens cash office.

In response to the complaints, officers at the Athens cash office acknowledged the delays, and unofficially reported to Refugee.Info that they sometimes have to suspend new registrations for cash cards so they can focus on tackling the huge backlog of cases.

Thanks to everyone who alerted us to this issue and sent us videos. Here's everything we know about this developing situation.

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Why is the Athens cash office closed?

We found out that a group of refugees is occupying the Athens cash office to protest the long delays in issuing cash cards, and express their frustrations with the Greek asylum system in general.

A week ago, about 50 refugees stormed the building, and the police evacuated cash office employees.

The office has been closed since then.

On Monday morning, the protesters broke into the building and moved their demonstration back inside. Police arrived at the scene and asked the protesters to leave the office because, according to Greek law, they are trespassing.

Along with UNHCR and CRS, the police explained that the protest is further delaying cash registration for all Athens-based asylum-seekers and refugees who qualify for assistance, because cash card employees cannot return to work until it is over.

The protestors, however, refused to move and said they will not leave the building until they are guaranteed cash cards.

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How did the protest start?

Saeed from Iran went to the cash office a week ago after waiting 8 months for his cash card. He decided to protest in solidarity when he saw other refugees were in the same situation, and chained himself to a chair in the entrance of the building.

He has been chained for more than one week, staying at the cash office day and night.

Around 50 people, mainly Farsi speakers from Iran and Afghanistan, joined him to occupy the building after they came to the office for scheduled appointments.

Some protesters told Refugee.Info they already have cash cards, while others said they are still waiting. CRS confirmed that some have been waiting for 7-9 months. Refugees supporting the demonstration are providing the protesters with food and water.

Why haven’t I received my cash card yet?

CRS informed Refugee.Info that delays happen for various reasons depending on each individual case. Some of the reasons they listed were:

  • Coordination between UNHCR, CRS and local authorities.
  • Bureaucratic procedures.
  • Some people can be hard to reach because they don’t respond to calls or change their number without informing the cash office.
  • Some people go to their appointment without the necessary papers, and need to make a new appointment as a result.
  • Some applicants can be found ineligible after a thorough examination of their papers, before a decision is made. Re-examining previously rejected cases also takes time.

According to unofficial estimates, approximately 3,000 people in Athens are now on the waiting list for cash.

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How are UNHCR and CRS responding to the protest?

Representatives from both organizations came to speak to the protesters on Monday to listen to the refugees’ demands, and compiled the details of the refugees present who had not yet received their cash cards. UNHCR and CRS said there were already delays to issuing cash cards in the past, and nothing about the procedure has changed.

When will the cash office start running again?

CRS told Refugee.Info that cash registration and certification can only continue when the protesters leave the premises, and their cash officers are able to return to the office.

There is no news yet of when registration for cash assistance will start again, when the office will reopen, or when missed appointments will be rescheduled.

Am I affected if I am already receiving cash assistance?

No, the current situation in Athens won't affect the 49,649 refugees and asylum-seekers who are already receiving cash assistance, across 93 locations in Greece.

Can Refugee.Info help us to get cash cards?

Refugee.Info doesn't issue cash cards and is not involved in the registration process. We are in contact with all the organizations in charge and aim to provide you information as we get it.

If you have more questions about cash assistance, you can call the Greece Cash Alliance Hotline.