Oxfam's humanitarian response in Greece

Oxfam staff distribute winter clothes and blankets to people living in reception facilities in north-western Greece. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

Since January 2015 more than 1 million women and men fleeing war, persecution, natural disasters and poverty entered or passed through Greece in search of safety and a better life in Europe. We are working in Athens, Lesvos island and the Epirus region of North-West Greece responding to the urgent needs of people arriving. Support our work.

During the latter part of 2015 and early 2016, selective and arbitrary admissions policies were put in place by European countries such as the closure of their borders and the EU – Turkey deal that aims to return to Turkey people seeking safety in Europe.  According to UNHCR there are approximately 43,000 refugees and migrants in Greece, about 30,000 on the mainland living in containers, formerly abandoned buildings, hotels, as well as in UNHCR’s ‘relocation scheme housing’and 13,000 are restricted to the Greek islands, which have a capacity for 8,500 people only.

Substandard living conditions and lack of adequate food, medical care and information have heightened people's anxiety, depression and uncertainty.  With little information about their rights, legal options, and how long it will take for them to be able to benefit from asylum or other legal options for being relocated or reaching family elsewhere in the European Union, many people turn to smugglers to move north. 

Child-friendly spaces allow refugee children to cope better with their reality. Photo: OxfamChildren from Syria draw nice, colorful pictures and spend their time creatively in the Child Friendly Spaces created by Oxfam and Arsis and funded by ECHO, in Konitsa site- Epirus, Greece. Photo: Oxfam

Oxfam’s response 

We started our operations in Greece in October 2015 as the humanitarian situation for people arriving irregularly from Turkey rapidly worsened, providing clean water, sanitation, food and non-food items. We currently have offices in Athens, Lesbos and the Epirus region of North-West Greece. Here's an overview of our program work since we started our operations:

Lesbos: Between October 2015 and July 2016, Oxfam responded to the urgent needs of newly arrived migrants and refugees, in Moria “Hotspot” and Kara Tepe hospitality site, by distributing food, essential non-food items, and providing toilet and shower facilities to ensure the safety and dignity of women, girls, boys, and men upon arrival into Greece.

Oxfam is now running a stand-alone protection programme on Lesvos that provides free legal assistance to migrants and asylum seekers at different asylum stages, in addition to civil and criminal cases, through partners. Oxfam is also establishing a community based protection approach with men and women in Lesvos, enabling information and increased access to services through training a network of focal points in the community.

Epirus: Oxfam started programming in Epirus in April 2016 and is currently working in two formerly abandoned buildings, two containerized sites and urban settings. We deliver various services such as dignified living conditions, safe drinking water, WASH facilities, protection and integration activities and support to site management. We also provide free legal assistance to asylum seekers through partners

Athens: Our advocacy, influencing, and coordination team is working in the capital to address concerns around protection issues and provision of safe and dignified living conditions. We are campaigning with local and European organizations to raise the voices of migrants and refugees so that European leaders act to protect and uphold their rights.

Read our recent blog posts: 

Helping migrants adjust to a new life in Greece

Three ways cash is king for asylum seekers in Greece

Helping women migrants regain their sense of dignity

Oxfam's campaigning work

We are calling on:

  • The EU and its member states must manage migration in a way that upholds rights and ensures the safety and dignity of women, men and children throughout the reception and legal processes.
  • The EU and Greek Government must improve registration and asylum processes so they are fair, efficient, and transparent; ensure people can quickly access information about registration and asylum procedures, the legal options available to them including family reunification, relocation, and return; receive clear information about their rights; access free legal aid and interpretation; and guarantee that refugee status is quickly determined.
  • Women, men, girls, and boys need to be hosted in appropriate, dignified and safe “out-of-site” accommodation. Tented sites and containers should be just a very short-term solution.  
  • The Greek authorities must ensure that all reception centers on the Greek islands are open sites. Detention should be only limited to cases that are justified on an individual basis and as provided for in law.

We work with others as part of our humanitarian responses and are keen to learn from and support the work of Greek NGOs, such as Arsis, the Greek Council for Refugees, the Greek Section of Amnesty International and Action Aid. Where possible, we are open to working with local partners, volunteer groups and others to ensure that the humanitarian response in Greece meets the needs of migrants and the host communities alike.

Along with 14 NGOs, Oxfam expresses deep concern about a change in availability of the IOMs Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration program for asylum seekers on the Greek islands and the impact it has on the right to appeal and the decision to return home free of duress. Read our full statement

Among other joint initiatives, Oxfam has signed an open letter by 19 NGOs to Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras where we are asking the Greek government to transfer migrants from the overcrowded camps on the islands to the Greek mainland. With the approach of the third winter since large-scale arrivals on the islands began, it is evident that the Greek authorities cannot meet the basic needs and protect the rights of migrants and refugees while they remain on the islands. Read our full statement

Help us save lives. Donate now.

We urgently need your help to reach more families around the world who have been forced to flee their homes. From people escaping conflict in Syria to those making treacherous journeys to Europe, stranded in inadequate conditions in Greece and arriving with nothing, help give life-saving support to refugees in the countries that need it most. Any donation amount in the currency of your choice will help us to respond to those in desperate need. 

Funding: Oxfam’s program is funded by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) as well as members of the public from around the world.  

Does the rest of Europe even know that we are here? Do they know that we are more than 200 people in this camp living like this?
Rahim, 33, Afghan, Katsikas Camp, Epirus, Greece.