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More refugees leave warehouse sites for better housing

21 February 2017

© UNHCR
Fifteen-year-old Roula from Syria and her family have now been moved to this hotel room in Northern Greece, after months in difficult conditions in a warehouse in Vasilika.

Some 120 refugees and migrants that spent months in the old warehouse SK Market in the North of Greece are sleeping in hotel beds since earlier last week. This is the latest evacuation from warehouses to better accommodation bringing the number of warehouses closed for the time being up to three.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has been transferring people from the government-run refugee sites and other places to accommodation buildings for almost a year already, however with the winter on the doorstep and deteriorating weather conditions, the Agency, at the request of the coordinating Ministry of Migration Policy, boosted the transfers from particularly exposed sites, and other actors supported this joint effort to offer better living conditions. The latest transfer was carried out by the International Organization for Migration while UNHCR was monitoring.

Winter in northern Greece was very harsh with temperatures dropping below zero during the night, making it especially hard for those residing in sites inside and around warehouses in the area. On the very last day of January, close to 50 residents of the Frakapor warehouse probably did not feel the cold air that much - for the first time this winter. Time had finally come for them to board a UNHCR chartered bus to leave this refugee site for good. All of them are now hosted in hotels at special rates under the accommodation scheme UNHCR is running in Greece.

Refugees and migrants on warehouse sites were still sleeping in tents, pitched inside on the ground inside the old industrial buildings. UNHCR's effort to put wooden flooring under these tents helped to improve the situation a little bit but not for long, as the temperatures kept dropping down to -10 C at some sites during the night. In early December, together with the responsible Ministry, five warehouse sites (Oreakastro, Frakapor, Karamalis, Kalahori/SK Market, and Redestos/Vasiliska) were prioritized for people to be moved out of tents to hotel rooms and apartment buildings. Oreakastro warehouse used to be one of the biggest refugee accommodation sites in northern Greece, more than 1000 have been moved to other accommodation during the past months. Redestos/Vasilika once used to host around 700 persons, of whom almost no one is left at the site today.

In close cooperation with the local authorities, local and international NGOs, UNHCR keeps identifying new accommodation places, aiming to move all refugees and migrants out of warehouse sites. In northern Greece, the Agency is covering accommodation spaces in more than 200 apartments, five hotels, and with 20 host-families. Since early November 2016, together with other organizations in northern Greece, we have moved more than 4,500 persons to different accommodation places.

Back in autumn and as part of the winter preparation tasks initially assigned to UNHCR, the Agency delivered more than 400 prefab houses to four refugee sites in northern Greece where no one would have to sleep out in the open anymore, long before the cold snap. 1,500 refugees and migrants were happy to leave their tents and find better living conditions in the prefabs funded by the European Commission - Humanitarian Aid (Echo).

Back in October, UNHCR transferred close to 100 persons from a camp in Koutsochero to accommodation places in buildings, and later in November around 1,100 refugees were moved from Petra Olympou site to hotels at special rates and apartment buildings right before the first snow covered the empty tents on the world famous mountain.

 

  • By Liene Veide in Thessaloniki, Greece

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