A significant decline in arrivals allowed for a decrease of the population in the Evros, Kos and Leros RICs. The RICs on Lesvos, Samos and Chios operated well above capacity, although the population also reduced there as well. 2020 was also marked by the destruction of Moria, the setting up of a new camp, the presentation of the EU Pact and the Task Force for a pilot centre on Lesvos. Along with the amended legal framework, the above signaled the start of the establishment of multipurpose RICs (MPRICs) at the borders for screening, accommodation and pre-removal detention.
UNHCR focused on monitoring and capacity building but also provided operational support to improve conditions in particular for persons with special needs. To address gaps in the reception of arrivals during the pandemic, UNHCR supported the creation of quarantine and screening/isolation areas, provided material and cash assistance and shielded COVID-19 risk groups in hotels and ESTIA. Monitoring findings were used for advocacy for the transfer of asylum-seekers and refugees to the mainland, the need for winterization and improved reception conditions, and the non-discriminatory application of COVID-19 restriction measures. UNHCR used monitoring findings for a third-party intervention before the ECHR on reception conditions.
UNHCR also made recommendations to the authorities for site planning and protection standards in MPRICs and supported the authorities in the setting up of, and coordination and assistance in, the new camp on Lesvos. Protection teams operated the information points and protection desks in the RICs, engaged jointly with RIS staff and partners in information provision, identification, and referral of persons with special needs, communication with communities, child protection, gender-based violence and community-based protection solutions. Capacity building through three experts (legal and information management) at central level and one at the Evros RIC, played a key role in strengthening reception and information management.
UNHCR supported reception policies through the ESTIA accommodation and services scheme, in 2020 implemented jointly with the Greek authorities in more than 20 locations countrywide. In September 2020 the transition commenced with approximately 12,000 places under the responsibility of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum (MMA), and by year end more than 15,000 more were under the MMA, ensuring that there was no disruption in reception capacity due to the transition.
Overall, UNHCR accommodated 30,044 people of concern under ESTIA (excluding 1,126 internal transfers between Partners), of whom 30% were persons with special needs who also benefited from protection case management, psychosocial support, transport, referrals to health, protection, social and employment services. UNHCR provided continued guidance to partners aimed at harmonizing ESTIA procedures, while maximizing protection impact and addressing COVID-19 challenges.
The transition of ESTIA was achieved by building up the MMA’s capacity, including by deploying UNHCR staff. Regular coordination was established, focusing on programme simplification and adjustments to facilitate the transition. MMA, with UNHCR support, drafted the regulatory framework for ESTIA and the call for partners. Referrals of asylum-seekers to the scheme and the exit of best interests processes was transitioned.
28,349 people of concern resided in camps or temporary hotels (open reception facilities/ORFs). ORFs were officially established and a General Regulation for Operation was issued. ORFs operated with the support of SMS agencies under the coordination of IOM. Standards and conditions varied, with some ORFs of adequate standard, and others unsuitable for long-term living, especially those with emergency shelters (tents or large tents). UNHCR continued its advocacy for improvements in the legal framework for reception and provision of support through the temporary accommodation project until July 2020. UNHCR regularly visited ORFs for protection monitoring and coordination meetings, that fed UNHCR’s related advocacy on reception.