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Society

Greece Moving Thousands of Migrants Out of Accommodations, Fate Uncertain

ATHENS – In a move designed to make space for refugees and migrants stuck in Greek island detention centers and camps, the New Democracy government has started transferring 11,237 out of long-term facilities.

What will happen to them is unclear, however, with rights groups saying they will be left to fend for themselves during an economic plunge and soaring joblessness likely in the aftermath of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.

The transfers began June 1 with the Migration Ministry not saying which places holding refugees and migrants, including some who've been granted asylum, will be affected first or how long it will take, said Kathimerini.

The ministry didn't say how many who secured asylum and how many had their applications rejected and therefore face deportation while those approved for asylum will be able to join job training programs and claim social benefits.

It wasn't clear whether the cash assistance provided to them will continue once they leave the facilities. The ministry has pledged that vulnerable migrants such as the elderly and unaccompanied minors will get priority treatment.

The operation is under a law passed in November, 2019, reducing the time refugees and migrants could stay in shelters and accommodations from six months to one, most in apartments in Athens. 

Greece's government the transfers are necessary to alleviate pressure on the more than 32,500 migrants living in squalid camps on islands, reported Euronews in a feature.

"It is normal that those who have been in Greece for longer can leave their place,"  Manos Logothetis, Secretary of the Greek asylum service. "There must be a limit and the refugees integrate and find a job,” he told the site.

Boris Cheshirkov, spokesman in Athens for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said, “Refugees will have to leave this form of assistance without effective access to Greek social services.”

He added that, “In theory, they are entitled to assistance but in reality for those who do not speak the language, navigating the Greek bureaucracy can be extremely difficult."

The Greek newspaper Efsyn blamed Greek immigration minister Panagiotis Mitarachis of aligning with "xenophobic and extremist groups," adding that the decision was taken only because of "the urgent need of alleviating (migrant pressure) on the islands, where most of his voters are based".

The city council is working to find new shelters for the refugees as well as to provide them with basic necessities, Euronews also said.

"UNHCR has continuously raised its concerns that recognized refugees are expected to leave assistance but they do not have effective access to social benefits and support," the UN's refugee agency said in a statement.

"Many of those affected are vulnerable, including but not only most staying in ESTIA accommodation. Their effective inclusion in national systems offering services and for cash or in-kind support has not been possible so far. The situation is aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The risk of tensions are also increasing, and many people may be unable or unwilling to comply with the decision to leave their accommodation with Greece overwhelmed with more than 100,000 refugees and migrants.

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