As of the end of September 2023, Greece was home to 169,407 refugees. These individuals come from various nations, including Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Eritrea, and many more. Among them, vulnerable groups such as minors, women, LGBTQI+ individuals, the elderly, and disabled individuals face unique challenges and heightened risks.
Tragic Incidents at Sea and Criticism of Greek Policies
Greece has seen an alarming surge in asylum seekers, with 25,516 arrivals since the beginning of this year. This number has already surpassed the figure from 2022, marking a distressing trend. The journey of refugees and migrants to Greece is filled with danger and unpredictability, leading to recurring tragedies, including boat capsizes and lives lost along the treacherous Aegean Sea routes.
One of this year's most devastating tragedies unfolded on June 14, 2023. An aged fishing trawler, overloaded with migrants en route to Italy, sank tragically in international waters within the Ionian Sea, near Pylos, Greece. Despite its 400-person capacity, the vessel carried an estimated 400 to 750 migrants, primarily originating from Pakistan, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and Afghanistan.
Over the last month, Greece has witnessed further distressing incidents. Reports indicate that four migrants and refugees lost their lives after their vessel capsized near Lesbos. Thankfully, 18 people were rescued. Furthermore, on Farmakonisi, a small Greek island in the eastern Aegean Sea, the bodies of a group of 15 were found.
Greece's policies have been criticised for years by international organisations, emphasising the need for humane and accessible migration policies. Despite this, the Greek government continues to dismiss reports of pushbacks as propaganda.
This cannot continue.
Integration and Living Conditions
Those who are able to successfully reach Greece's shores, face a web of challenges that test their resilience and humanity, including wildfires, human rights abuses, and inadequate living conditions.
The path to integration and stability in Greece is laden with obstacles. Many refugees and migrants struggle to find work due to language barriers, limited legal employment opportunities, and missing key documents. For women with young children, the lack of childcare facilities poses a significant challenge, hindering their ability to work.
Inadequate living conditions are another pressing concern for asylum seekers and refugees in Greece. Reception and Identification Centers (RICs) on the islands, funded by the EU, have undergone a transformation into Closed Control Access Centers (CCACs). This transformation subjects residents to 24-hour surveillance, the presence of private security personnel, and strict curfews, with plans to open another CCAC on Lesvos in a remote forested area in 2023.
Disturbing reports have emerged, detailing daily struggles within these facilities, from staff shortages delaying asylum procedures to disturbing allegations of violence impacting children. For instance, on the island of Leros, recurring issues characterised by frequent incidents of violence and vandalism have been recorded within the facilities housing minors. The authorities have been facing significant challenges in providing care for around 40 children who were left without caregivers.
Living conditions on the mainland are equally dire. Unregistered asylum seekers in refugee camps in Athens and its surroundings face overcrowding, limited access to essential services, and a lack of proper provisions.
The Emergency Support to Integration and Accommodation (ESTIA) program, funded by the UNHCR and the European Union, was established in 2015 to provide urban accommodation for the most vulnerable asylum-seekers. However, in December 2022, the Greek government phased out the ESTIA program. This decision forced asylum-seekers still in need to return to refugee camps, further exacerbating their already dire circumstances.
Winter Challenges for the Refugee Crisis
Winter's arrival in Greece brings added challenges for refugees and asylum seekers. The harsh weather, insufficient shelter, limited heating, overcrowding, and disrupted services create an especially daunting environment. Harsh winter conditions in Greece include sub-zero temperatures, strong winds, as well as snow and ice: temperatures have been reported to drop below -8°C. The presence of snow and ice can greatly reduce the mobility of refugees, which can affect their access to essential services such as healthcare and food distributions. Tents and makeshift structures offer little protection from the cold and wind, and many refugees lack sufficient warm clothing and blankets to protect themselves from the cold.
These conditions not only pose a threat to refugees' mental health, due to the psychological toll of enduring severe winter conditions in crowded camps, but also to their physical health: individuals are more susceptible to hypothermia, frostbite and respiratory illnesses when exposed to freezing temperatures. Vulnerable groups, including children, the elderly, and those with pre-existing health conditions, are particularly susceptible to such risks during this season. Living in these conditions is extremely uncomfortable and dangerous for refugees, many of whom have already endured physical and emotional trauma.
No one should live like this.
Impact of Indigo Volunteers’ Partner Organisations
In response to the ongoing refugee and migrant crisis in Greece, Indigo Volunteers’ partner organisations play crucial roles in providing support and assistance. They are on the frontlines, addressing the challenges faced by displaced individuals and offering vital services, from legal aid to the distribution of essential resources like food and clothing.
We reached out to some of our partner organisations to inquire about their contributions and activities during the previous winter season:
Samos Volunteers, with a team of 55 dedicated volunteers, made a substantial impact during the winter season. They provided assistance to around 2,800 service users, distributing clothes to 2,777 people and dedicating approximately 900 hours to providing essential support.
Mobile Info Team operated tirelessly, offering legal services to refugees and migrants. They work full-time, Monday to Friday, assisting over 650 service users each month. Last winter they provided assistance to 4,669 service users and collaborated with 14 dedicated volunteers.
Parea Lesvos recorded 34,063 visits to their centre last winter, with an average daily number of visitors reaching 300. Their dedication extended to distributing 40,521 drinks, 30,800 lunches, and providing 400 hours of recreational activities in the Women Space, along with an additional 400 hours in the Paréa Club.
Sporos Regeneration Institute, with a team of 6 dedicated volunteers, played a vital role in assisting refugees and migrants during the winter months. Despite their small team, they managed to support around 1,000 service users and distribute approximately 200 kilograms of vegetables, fruits, and herbs.
As winter approaches, these organisations face an escalating set of challenges. The demand for warm clothing and extra resources becomes increasingly urgent. At the same time, recruiting volunteers during the colder months becomes a tougher task. These organisations heavily rely on volunteers because they have limited funds and can't afford to hire more staff.
This makes volunteers absolutely essential to their operations.
Your Support Matters
If you want to make a difference this winter, consider volunteering with one of our partner organisations in Greece. Your support is crucial for them as they face tough challenges while providing essential aid to those in need. Explore available opportunities on our Explore & Apply page, submit your application, and our volunteer coordinators will swiftly match you with an organisation in need this winter that requires your expertise and dedication.
If you cannot volunteer at the moment, please consider setting up a regular donation as this will help give us the stability we need to continue.
Across Europe, our volunteer matching services are needed more than ever - but as a charity, we are dependent on your kindness to stay alive. With your help, we’ll get helpers to where they’re needed most, now and into the future.