Operation: Opération: Greece



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Key Figures

2020 year-end results
87,471 eligible asylum-seekers (monthly average) and beneficiaries of international protection received direct cash assistance through UNHCR’s ESTIA programme
30,044  asylum-seekers and beneficiaries of international protection received accommodation under UNHCR’s Emergency Support to Integration and Accommodation Programme (ESTIA)
16,600 urban accommodation places were transferred to the Government
12,000 people affected by the Moria reception and identification centre fire received humanitarian assistance
9,000 individuals received legal assistance
2021 planning figures
42,400 households will receive cash grants
7,300 asylum-seekers will benefit from legal assistance
7,100 asylum-seekers with specific needs will receive support

People of Concern Personnes relevant de la compétence du HCR

Decrease in
2020 168,737
2019 190,900
2018 137,757


[["Refugees",103136],["Asylum-seekers",60896],["Others of concern",4705]]
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2020 {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"budget":[287.40068551,245.86626514000002,247.36028813000001,271.81191181,284.35562093,150.528583],"expenditure":[183.87264811000003,217.74130145,236.72237511999998,253.17289963,272.52359408,null]} {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"p1":[287.37282951,245.83840878,247.27133477,271.76191181,284.24095338,150.453583],"p2":[0.027856,0.02785636,0.08895336,0.05,0.11466755000000001,0.075],"p3":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p4":[null,null,null,null,null,null]} {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"p1":[183.84988105000002,217.73145452,236.67153789,253.14021803,272.49936187000003,null],"p2":[0.022767060000000002,0.00984693,0.050837230000000004,0.0326816,0.02423221,null],"p3":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p4":[null,null,null,null,null,null]}
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  • 2015
  • 2016
  • 2017
  • 2018
  • 2019
  • 2020
  • 2021

Operational context

2020 commenced with UNHCR supporting Greek authorities to respond to the increasing arrivals as compared to recent years, creating huge pressure on the overcrowded reception and identification centres (RICs). During the first three months of 2020 sea arrivals were more than 30% higher compared to the same period in 2019.

In February thousands of people tried to enter Greece from Turkey, affecting attitudes towards refugees and prompting the temporary suspension of asylum registration.

UNHCR reacted to the COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020 by scaling up support to Greek authorities, establishing screening, isolation and quarantine facilities and improving water and hygiene conditions on the islands, and relocating some of the most vulnerable individuals to alternative accommodation. UNHCR continued to advocate for the inclusion of all people of concern in Greece’s national health plan.
In September 2020, major fires destroyed the Moria RIC on Lesvos. UNHCR provided emergency shelter and basic humanitarian support for 12,000 people. The relocation of unaccompanied children and vulnerable families to other European Union member States increased following efforts by the Government with UNHCR support to move them off all the islands.

Despite these challenges, UNHCR worked closely with the Government, handing over responsibility for the majority of the ESTIA accommodation programme and holding discussions on a transition of the ESTIA cash programme.

Population trends

At the end of 2020, UNHCR estimated the number of refugees and asylum-seekers who had arrived and remained since 2015 totalled 119,700 (100,600 on the mainland and 19,100 on the islands), up from 112,300 a year earlier. The total includes 53,200 men, 25,100 women and 41,400 children (including 4,027 unaccompanied). In 2020, 9,714 arrivals were recorded by sea and 5,982 by land, 79% fewer overall than in 2019. 34,325 people were recognised as refugees, up from 17,359 in 2019.
While legal departures grew due to relocations of unaccompanied children and vulnerable asylum-seekers, the pandemic significantly reduced Dublin family reunion departures, and irregular departures increased, in particular through the Western Balkans.

Key achievements

  • UNHCR positively influenced several amendments to the revised asylum legislation, provided legal aid to 9,000 asylum-seekers, and monitored detention facilities, policies and conditions across the country.
  • UNHCR supported the relocation of 573 unaccompanied children and 2,209 other vulnerable asylum-seekers and beneficiaries of international protection to other European countries. 
  • In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, UNHCR established screening, isolation and quarantine units near reception centres on the islands and in Evros and provided PPE to nearby hospitals. UNHCR supported the transfer of 2,180 immuno-compromised individuals from overcrowded island centres to safer accommodation. People of concern were included in Greece’s national COVID-19 vaccination plan. 
  • UNHCR maintained its efforts to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, providing legal counselling, emergency accommodation and psychosocial support. 
  • UNHCR provided one-off cash assistance to 31,565 asylum-seekers on the islands for COVID-19 hygiene supplies; a cash top-up for 91,896 people to access mobile internet data on COVID-19; and emergency cash to 9,128 people affected by the Moria fires. 

Unmet needs

  • The humanitarian situation on the islands remains dire, with a critical need to improve reception conditions and identify long-term solutions. On the islands of Samos and Chios, around 6,100 individuals remain in reception centres with capacity for 1,750, while over 3,000 are in makeshift shelters with limited heating. On Lesvos gaps in drainage, electricity and heating persist. 
  • Self-reliance and integration remain major concerns. Further efforts are required by the authorities to remove obstacles that refugees encounter in exercising their rights and access social services.  UNHCR will work to increase opportunities for self-reliance. Despite the transfer of 750 unaccompanied children and youth from RICs to temporary accommodation on the mainland in September 2020, some 3,700 children in families and 126 unaccompanied and separated children remain in the island and Evros reception facilities in poor conditions. 
  • Access to territory significantly deteriorated in 2020 and UNHCR continues to call on the authorities to ensure access to reception procedures.

Use of flexible funding (unearmarked or softly earmarked funding)

Flexible funding saved lives after the Moria fire, enabling UNHCR to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to 12,000 people.

Working environment

In 2020, assuming the EU-Turkey Statement continues to be implemented, the number of asylum applications Greece receives is expected to continue at a steady pace – both from refugees and migrants entering the country via the islands and on land. The improved capacity of Greece’s Asylum Service will positively impact the recognition rate for refugees.
By the end of 2020, some 50,000 refugees and asylum-seekers are expected to remain in the country. UNHCR will work closely with local and national authorities to support the design and implementation of integration policies and increase opportunities for refugees to become self-reliant.
Management of the EU-funded accommodation scheme that UNHCR has run in collaboration with local authorities and partner NGOs will gradually be transferred to the Greece authorities in 2020, along with related services, cash-based assistance and transportation activities.
However, UNHCR will remain focused on running response-driven protection activities supporting vulnerable individuals, such as children and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.

 Key priorities

 In 2020, UNHCR will remain focused on supporting national plans for people of concern and their inclusion in existing social schemes and other national structures, with the aim of affording asylum-seekers and refugees’ greater dignity and self-reliance, as well as helping their social integration.
In line with its multi-year transition strategy, UNHCR will continue to ensure protection monitoring related to cash-based assistance, particularly for people with specific needs, children and women. It will also strengthen interventions in local communities that host refugees.
UNHCR will organize targeted advocacy activities, legislative reviews and offering recommendations where relevant. The Office will also provide operational capacity interventions for emerging government services and institutions, as well as community structures, including in areas of child protection, communicating with communities and sexual and gender-based violence. Greater focus on preventing and responding to sexual and gender-based violence will include supporting the expansion of safe shelters for survivors of such violence as well as case management. Unaccompanied or separated children and youth will be provided with support solutions and non-formal educational opportunities. 
UNHCR will continue to make the capacity-building of relevant state authorities and other actors a priority to ensure progress is made in handing over of responsibilities.
Support to Greece’s asylum service in ad-hoc registration and backlog clearing exercises will be provided and expertise on bilateral relocation agreements implemented.
UNHCR will heavily invest in legislative amendments, which were a result of its continued advocacy with the authorities.
It will also assume a more prominent role in refugees’ societal integration through support, advocacy and coordination.
Latest contributions
  • 25-NOV-2021
    United States of America

    private donors

  • 24-NOV-2021
  • Germany
  • 23-NOV-2021
    United States of America

    private donors

  • 22-NOV-2021
    United States of America

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  • Japan

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  • 18-NOV-2021

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  • Argentina
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  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • 17-NOV-2021

    private donors

  • Germany
  • 15-NOV-2021
    United Arab Emirates

    private donors

  • 12-NOV-2021
  • 11-NOV-2021
  • Angola
  • 09-NOV-2021
  • 08-NOV-2021
  • Hungary