After her house was burned in the Afghan conflict, Marzia was forced to flee on a long search for safety that has brought her to the Greek capital.
“I want my older son to become a mechanical engineer in order to rebuild our country,” the 30-year old mother of three said, still holding out hope that one day she can return home.
In the meantime, Marzia has found temporary refuge at the new accommodation site in Eleonas, an industrial area in western Athens. The new centre provides shelter and basic services to people who recently arrived in Greece. The country has been grappling with a huge increase in new arrivals, mainly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The latest figures compiled by UNHCR show more than 160,000 people have arrived in Greece since the beginning of the year, the overwhelming majority of them by sea. In July alone, over 50,000 people, mostly fleeing the conflict in Syria, arrived in Greece by sea — compared to 43,500 for the whole of 2014.
The establishment of Eleonas marks a positive step in efforts to provide suitable accommodation to new arrivals. With a capacity of approximately 700, it contains some 66 prefabricated houses, each with its own sanitation facilities and air-conditioning.
More of the shelters are expected to be brought to the site, which also provides gathering areas and a playground for children. Food provision, medical services and psychosocial support are offered by representatives of the central and local authorities, NGOs, volunteer groups and refugee communities.
“At a time when the pace of arrivals in Greece is steadily increasing, the construction of the site covers an important gap,” said Giorgos Tsarbopoulos, head of the UNHCR Office in Greece.
“It constitutes a positive example of speedy action and efficient coordination among different actors. It can serve the need for provision of basic shelter and services, for as long as it is necessary, provided that a series of issues related to its sustainability are adequately addressed.”
A UNHCR site planner provided advice during construction of the site. Now that the facility has opened, the refugee agency provides information to new arrivals, including on asylum procedures and family reunification. It also assists Greek authorities with the identification of vulnerable individuals and with interpretation services through its NGO partner, METAction.
Tsarbopoulos said ongoing work to cover the needs of new arrivals must be accompanied by continuous and serious efforts, under a strategic planning at central level, to improve access to asylum procedures; significantly increase reception capacity; and improve conditions for asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors.
More programmes promoting integration of refugees are also required. European institutions and member states should support Greece in these efforts. In the meantime, Tsarbopoulos said, UNHCR remains available to support Greek authorities in achieving all of these goals.
By Aikaterini Kitidi in Athens