Transitioning to a government-run refugee and migrant response in Greece

A joint NGO roadmap for more fair and humane policies


Two years on from the peak of the “refugee crisis” in Greece, the Greek state is beginning to take over management and financing of aspects of the reception and integration system, and many international nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) that came to assist with the -then- humanitarian emergency are downsizing or preparing to exit the country entirely. At this turning point, the 14 undersigned NGOs believe it is critical to reflect on our field experiences, build on the progress collectively made, and provide recommendations for a smooth transition and a sustainable Greek Government-managed refugee and migrant reception and integration system.

Certainly, there has been progress. The European Union (EU) implemented humanitarian funding within the EU for the first time, finding political agreement at the Heads of State level to make this possible. Also, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), despite shortcomings, was deployed to assist an EU country operationally for the first time. There are also positive examples, especially coming from local governments that should be a basis for replication and learning for the future. Unfortunately, these have not been part of a holistic approach or long-term strategic plan.

The transition to a government-run response is a positive step if implemented transparently, promptly, and in close collaboration with local governments, as well as the organisations currently providing services, soon to fall under the responsibility of the Greek government. It is under this current state of affairs, and with the goal of preventing regression, that we write this report.

The humanitarian response in Greece has been one of the best-resourced in history. However, as analysed in this report, a combination of some short-sighted EU migration policies and lack of political will on the part of EU member states, institutions and the Greek government to properly coordinate a rights-based response, have directly resulted in insufficient progress to date. Lack of coordination of the multiple actors on the ground, including NGOs, as well as the difficulty of the Greek state to successfully access and utilise funding streams made available to it, have further inhibited progress. For example, the management body for EU asylum and migration funds EU was only established within the Ministry of Finance in April 2016, despite the funding period covering 2014-2020.

With all this in mind, the Greek state’s initial, understandable lack of preparedness for 2015’s unprecedented migration flows is no longer a reasonable justification for the gaps in asylum and reception procedures and services we witness today in Greece, an EU member state.

The report provides an overview of the current situation in Greece, our vision for an improved government-run reception and integration system going forward, and recommendations for effectively addressing persistent gaps in access to asylum and critical services, as well as opportunities for integration: our proposed way forward.

For real progress to be made, a few concrete actions must be taken by the Greek Government, EU member states, the European Commission (Commission), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and NGOs to ensure a collective EU migration management system based, first and foremost, on respect for human rights and international law.