Text in April's 2021 Newsletter


Recognized Refugees: the longed-for moment of recognition, the beginning of a rough road ahead

One would expect that the recognition of a refugee, be they a woman or a man, is a moment of vindication for all the fights they have fought for their inclusion into Greek society.  This is when, in theory, they are receiving the same rights as Greek citizens regarding their access to the labor market, social welfare and medical care. But this institutional equality is in fact unequal due to the lack of care and support, the fewer opportunities provided when compared to the ones available to Greek citizens as well as social prejudices. Based on inclusion examples observed abroad, a successful model is determined by the immediate start of language courses, the support of refugees for finding a job through educational and vocational training, initiatives for helping them familiarize with the new “reality” and encouraging relations with the local population.

In our country, extra difficulties surfaced when, in the context of a supposed “equalization” with Greek citizens, in June 2020, one month after the granting of the recognition of the refugee status, the monthly allowance to recognized refugees paid from the UNHCR (received by them as asylum seekers) was withdrawn without ensuring a six-month bridge as was the case in the past[1]. The level of difficulty in inclusion becomes even higher when recognition is carried out in a short period of time on the islands, without any pre-inclusion stages, with the persons feeling lost and unsure inside a society they have not faced before. One of them in Lesbos told us: “Before receiving the decision, I was better. Now I don’t have any help by anyone, I feel alone”.


The housing problem

For the inclusion of recognized refugees, at a national level, the only available program is HELIOS, which aims at promoting independent living for refugees in Greece through a) support for finding independent housing, b) inclusion courses, c) initiatives on employment for enhancing access to the labor market. Beneficiaries of the program receive support for finding a flat and signing a tenancy contract directly with the owner of the property.  By signing a tenancy agreement under their own name, the beneficiaries can receive rental allowances that are paid into their bank account. We believe that this program must grow in order to cover all recognized refugees that need its services.

In reality, there are many more problems associated with housing, such as: a) House owners often demonstrate xenophobic/racist behavior, b) difficulties in producing necessary documentation, accessing taxisnet, opening bank accounts, c) high rents and d) difficulty in maintaining the house if stable employment has not been achieved.

Moreover, many refugees complete the HELIOS project, but given that they have not found a job, they are not able to keep the apartment they have rented, so they end up becoming homeless or informally return to Refugee Accommodation Centers. We have seen recognized refugees who have managed to sort out their lives and whose children where attending the local school returning to Accommodation Centers or even worse ending up on the streets once the HELIOS program ended. It must be noted that in cases of single women or single-parent families, the risks of exposure to various forms of violence are dramatically more, as this is the case for the persons we support at the GCR services.

Other inclusion issues

Other issues that are making inclusion difficult:

– A very crucial matter is Greek language training which must start immediately after asylum seekers are received for the first time

– Access to state services and medical care are also poor due to the general difficulties caused by the pandemic but especially due to the lack of interpretation at those services.

– Long-year legal residence in Greece and the uninterrupted submission of tax returns within deadlines are necessary for receiving social benefits. For example, to receive child allowance (A12), third country citizens must have completed 12 years of lawful and permanent residence in Greece.


The employment issue

The already high unemployment rate together with the lockdown situation make refugee employment all the more difficult. These conditions increase refugee unemployment and exploitation and encourage racist behaviors in a great number of employees. During the pandemic, refugees who were black workers did not get any access at all to any emergency benefits.


The gendered impact of the pandemic is another issue worth mentioning. In many cases, women, such as single mothers, ended up taking over all responsibilities for raising their children, without any access to employment or allowances/benefits. The outbreak of violence in many couples under these stressful conditions and the limitation of movement and services created dreadful conditions for many refugee women.

In many cases, there have been severe delays by state services in issuing documentation such as VAT and Social Security (AMKA) numbers or opening bank accounts, even if these were payroll accounts.


Mental health

The long period of time before the recognition of the refugees, the multiple difficulties involved (such as permanent housing, constant relocations in the receiving country, detention, employment, educational, language learning and medical care restrictions and administrative obstacles for the recognition) create fear, insecurity, long-term exposure to stress which adds up and contributes in maintaining mental difficulties and vulnerability due to past traumatic experiences.

The basic mental health needs of recognized refugees are not met since most of them do not receive any support by psychosocial services, while there is also lack of interpretation. Finally, reports[2] demonstrate that there are high levels of mental suffering and morbidity amongst children.


Aspects of gender-based violence

Despite the fact that over the last years, serious effort has been made to enhance access to specialized services for refugee or migrant women who are survivors of gender-based violence, there is still to this day lack of interpretation and communication in cases of emergency. The S0S-15900 helpline provides 24h support for abused women in: Greek, English, Arabic and Farsi. This means that refugee women who do not speak these languages are automatically excluded from using this line, as is the case with the police line. So a refugee woman will need someone to help her with this communication, which is a longer process that increases the risk of further exposure to abusive behavior and often discourages the victims from seeking help.


In actual fact, it seems that there is still a lot to be done in order to give meaning to the recognized refugee status (which is very difficult to receive, even if all essential conditions are met). And what this means in real terms, is either the beginning of a new, extremely rough fight for inclusion or simply the “passport” for leaving the country. But this is a situation which is harmful not only to refugee women/men but our society as a whole.



[1] Following legal amendments in 2020, recognized refugees are asked to leave all accommodation facilities within one month from the date they received a recognition of their status in Greece. Article 114 L. 4636/2019, as amended by article 111 of L. 4674/2020.

[2] Source: - Miller, Alexander,Hess, Julia Meredith,Bybee, Deborah,Goodkind, Jessica R. Understanding the mental health consequences of family separation for refugees: Implications for policy and practice, American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, Vol 88(1), 2018, 26-37.

-Emily Satinsky, Daniela C. Fuhr, Aniek Woodward, Egbert Sondorp, Bayard Roberts , Mental health care utilisation and access among refugees and asylum seekers in Europe: A systematic review, Health Policy, Volume 123, Issue 9, 2019,   p. 851-863


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