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UNHCR moves 11 new-borns and other vulnerable asylum-seekers out of tents in Malakasa

05 December 2016


Malakasa, Greece, 5 December 2016 (UNHCR) - "My baby could not sleep the whole night, it was very cold in our tent", says Shamsrahman Safai, Afghan asylum-seeker in the Malakasa refugee site in Greece. "My wife had to hold our daughter in her arm all night long."

Shamshrahman Safai is among some 200 asylum-seekers that could not bear the windy winter weather in the government-run site any more. They were asking for help. "Not for me", says Shamsrahman as he stands in sandals in front of his old tent, "I am strong, but my baby is weak." He came to Greece with his family ten months ago, because back in Afghanistan they just faced "war, war, war - every single day", as he says.

So the responsible Ministry that coordinates the winter preparations of the refugee sites, approached UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, for support late last week. Seeing that the upgrade of the site was delayed, UNHCR agreed to step in the following day to trouble-shoot. UNHCR moved the most vulnerable 200 men, women and children, including 11 new-borns and pregnant women, to hotels at special rates, contracted by the organisation in Attica and Lamia regions. Funding is provided by the European Commission.

First, UNHCR, together with the official site management, met with the representatives of the 700 member strong refugee community in Malakasa. They expressed frustration about the harsh living conditions close to the mountains, some 40 kilometres outside the Greek capital of Athens. "From the hotel you propose, how far is it to the next hospital in case we need one?", asked community leader Zia, a goldsmith from Kandahar, Afghanistan, who dreams of returning to his business one day. UNHCR informed them about the medical and other services available at the new accommodation. After some clarifications, suddenly Shamsrahman stepped forward and said in a solemn voice: "Where we see the UNHCR logo, we have hope. We know, you are assisting people."

Later, UNHCR in collaboration with the authorities, identified the most vulnerable 200 and called a total of four buses. It was after midnight on Saturday morning, when the last asylum-seeker went to bed. And it was a dry and warm one after all.

Earlier last week, UNHCR had transferred over 1,100 Yezidi asylum-seekers from the heights of mount Olympus to temporary apartments and hotels at special rates. After the last bus left the Petra Olympou site, the first snow fell on its abandoned tents.

Apart from troubleshooting upon request from the Ministry, UNHCR continued the winter preparations as tasked by the authorities. The organisation upgraded the infrastructure on 15 out of over 40 official sites. Nobody has to stay in a tent anymore in these camps. And UNHCR keeps on rolling out residential containers on eight sites which used to have tents. Refugees and migrants in camps such as Lagadikia, Nea Kavala or Katsikas now stay in the four walls of their prefabs thanks to funding from the European Commission.

  • Roland Schoenbauer, Malakasa, Greece



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