Following the publication of the statement on the Closure of ESTIA II by Fenix Humanitarian Legal Aid (Fenix), the European Commission provided an answer on 1 December 2022, noting its support for alternative accommodation to camps and willingness to continue to provide funds for the program under the 2021-2027 Asylum Migration and Integration Fund program of Greece. Despite the Commission's willingness to continue to support the program, the Greek authorities 'decided to phase out the project by the end of 2022’.
The ESTIA program was implemented in 2015 and aimed to address the needs of vulnerable asylum seekers. It supported addressing the special needs of thousands of asylum seekers, while promoting the inclusion process with local host communities. Despite its significance, due purely to political gains, the Greek Government has now decided to disregard EU funding which guaranteed that vulnerable asylum seekers have access to dignified reception conditions, including adequate housing or access to medical care only available in urban areas. Likewise, children who were going to school, and asylum seekers who had found a job and were establishing a connection with their neighbours, were forced to interrupt their inclusion process and move to isolated camps.
Therefore, the ending of the ESTIA program is one more step in the implementation of containment and isolation measures adopted by the Greek Government and in contradiction with the EU Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion. In the Action Plan, it is recognised that providing support to migrant and hosting communities at the 'earliest possible moment' is essential to achieve a 'successful integration of migrants'. The remote camps hinder asylum seekers' engagement with the local population, increasing the gap and the distress between hosting and migrant communities, as recognised in the EU Action plan.
Recently, the Greek authorities orally informed organisations working with people seeking refuge that specific cases of vulnerable asylum seekers will not be accommodated in remote camps but will be in alternative accommodation schemes, information confirmed by the Commission on the letter form 1 December 2022 sent to Fenix. Nonetheless, no information was provided on how the identification occurred and why many extremely vulnerable cases were transferred to camps without their special needs being identified.
We urgently call the Greek authorities to comply with European and domestic legislation on special material reception conditions for vulnerable applicants and stop the ending of the ESTIA program to ensure that vulnerable asylum seekers are accommodated in sustainable, adequate and dignified housing.