UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has arranged accommodation for hundreds of people in hotels in Ioannina, Epirus region, and other parts of Northern and Western Greece as a temporary protection measure, during the winter months, for vulnerable families living in sites.
The welfare of refugees is key in all our actions and we hope that people still living in sites, as well as hotels, will be transferred to apartments, where they will enjoy better daily conditions. UNHCR’s existing contracts with higher-cost hotels are not extended if sufficient places are available in apartments and good cheaper hotels, where the contract ends later. This helps us make better use of the existing resources and allows us to rent more apartments for refugees.
Within the last four months, UNHCR has closed several contracts with hotels throughout Greece and more than 1,600 people have been transferred to other accommodation in Attica and Northern Greece. This includes around 200 refugees who were transferred from hotels in Ioannina region to apartments and hotels in Central Greece, Attica and Athens. Around 170 remain in the UNHCR accommodation scheme in Epirus and will be transferred to apartments as soon as places become available.
Last week, in an isolated incident that reflects the complexity and scale of the accommodation scheme, complaints were made when a group of 107 refugees were transferred from Ioannina to a lower cost hotel in Kamena Vourla.
UNHCR is looking at ways to improve communications among staff, partners and asylum seekers to avoid such incidents and help ensure the smooth transfer of people during the accommodation programme. The majority of transfers from camps to hotels and later to apartments worked smoothly.
The asylum seekers who were taken to hotels, will also be moved to apartments starting soon. This will be possible as new flats may be rented, while other apartments are vacated by asylum seekers leaving for relocation or family reunification. In cooperation with our partners UNHCR will schedule the transfers in small groups, starting with large families and families with small children.
UNHCR’s partners are present at the hotels under our accommodation scheme on a daily basis to provide immediate assistance to the asylum seekers, as well as to inform them about any planned transfers and find the best possible solution for everyone.
UNHCR has been supporting and working with the Greek Government and its Ministry of Migration Policy throughout the refugee crisis to find the best solutions in at times very complex situations. We are grateful to the local authorities in Epirus, especially Ioannina as well as Konitsa, Igoumenitsa and Zitsa municipalities, and the local population for their hospitality. With their continuous support, we are looking forward to the possibility of renting apartments to continue hosting refugees in the area.
Together with its partners and EU funding, UNHCR manages the accommodation scheme with over 18,000 places in a combination of hotels, private apartments, host families and collective centres/buildings. We make every effort to ensure that nobody accepted into the UNHCR scheme is compelled to go back to a site. UNHCR has helped provide accommodation for close to 30,000 refugees since November 2015.