It is a very serious matter that 2.5 million euros in European Union funding for the development of housing units for unaccompanied young refugees is going to waste due to opposition from local residents to having such a unit in their area, but also major delays by the state in putting the funds to their proper use. We're talking about a program that is paid for with European funds from the Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).
It is meant to be carried out in conjunction with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which has already signed the contract for its implementation with the Hellenic Red Cross. The funding is supposed to be spent on the development of four housing units for unaccompanied minors. Two of the units are in Athens, one in Larissa and the other in Kalavryta.
They will house them for six months, meaning the youngsters will be housed until the time that they are relocated to an EU country where they have family members. Though the funding has been secured and the needs are urgent, the difficulties involved with its implementation are many.
The IOM has requested the buildings the Hellenic Red Cross funds be privately owned, given that they will need to be refurbished in order to be suitable for housing minors.
In September 2016, the Hellenic Red Cross began work at a building at 4 Alkiviadou Street in central Athens. However, in early February it was occupied by an activist group, which invited refugees to stay there.
The takeover happened despite the fact that the Red Cross had informed the chief of the Omonia police station that it was presiding over the refurbishing of the building to house refugees. For more than 40 days, there was no police intervention, and the activist group continued to host about 150 refugees in the building unhindered. After the Red Cross had resorted to legal action, an evacuation operation was finally carried out on March 13. During the occupation, the building had suffered damage and it was revealed that the conditions the refugees were living in did not meet any health and safety standards.
Up in the northern suburb of Kifissia, objections were raised to the announcement that a Red Cross-owned building on Georganta Street would be used to house unaccompanied minors.
Kifissia Mayor Giorgos Thomakos made it clear that “the municipality is not directly involved, nor does the law stipulate that it should be questioned. We have asked for written assurances from the Red Cross that the unit will house children under the age of 12, at most 10 individuals and for a period of time lasting six months."
The mayor says the Municipality of Kifissia is not offering to host refugees, saying it doesn't have large spaces such as military bases. He realizes, however, that the space that is expected to operate as a housing unit is currently in a dire state.
Housing units for child refugees operate under very strict guidelines. The children receive three meals per day and live in a safe, secure environment. Medical and psychological care is provided, as is schooling. This is how it is assured that on the one hand they are protected and have their basic needs taken care of, and, on the other, no problems are caused for the local community.
“It is shocking that the local community objects when it is announced that there will be a special housing center because it means there will be a responsible body and that certain standards will be enforced. At the same time it tolerates or possibly even supports the housing of refugees at activist squats, which don't provide any guarantee of legality or safety,” says the executive of another NGO which is responsible for housing refugees in another part of Athens. “It is typical that [at the building] in Alkiviadou [Street], aside from household goods, there were gas canisters and crowbars,” he adds.