SEATTLE, Washington — The refugee crisis has impacted the world for almost a decade. Millions of individuals have fled Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and various African countries to escape violence, conflict or poverty. Many refugees end up seeking asylum in European countries. Initially, the majority of refugees fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. Once Turkey opened up its borders, many refugees fleed to Greece, including Greece’s mainland and surrounding islands. In light of the number of refugees living in Greece, there is a significant amount of overcrowding. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has not made this environment any more conducive. As such, the European Union has begun relocating refugees throughout various countries in Europe with its new relocation program.
The Refugee Crisis
The Syrian refugee crisis began in March 2011 after a group of teenagers was arrested for creating graffiti deemed “anti-government” in the southern Syrian town of Daraa. The government reacted to these actions with violence, which escalated over time. As a result, many Syrian citizens began fleeing to the neighboring country of Turkey to seek asylum. This led to Turkey opening its first refugee camp within the first two months of the crisis.
In March 2013, two years after the crisis, over one million individuals fled Syria. Most recently, 12 million people fled Syria as refugees and have found asylum in outside countries.
The Refugee Crisis’ Impact on Greece
Turkey initially made an arrangement with the European Union that disallowed the refugees to immigrate beyond the Turkish borders into Europe. However, Turkey announced that it would not continue to uphold its end of the agreement in 2016. The Greek island, Lesvos, created an immigration post and “holding station” for immigrants from Syria and Africa who wish to seek asylum in Europe.
Greece is currently home to approximately 50,000 refugees. This estimate comes from 38,000 asylum seekers on the mainland and 11,000 refugees on Greece’s surrounding islands of Lesbos, Chios, Kos, Samos and Leros. Moreover, more than half of these refugees are women and children, and approximately 3,000 travel independently.
Life as a Refugee in a Grecian Immigration Facility
Considering the large number of refugees that have taken asylum in Greece, many facilities housing these immigrants have become overcrowded. One facility, for example, is housing about 40,000 refugees, even though its maximum capacity is 6,000 people.
Unfortunately, immigrants seeking refuge in Europe are not legally allowed to continue traveling past Greece’s borders, meaning they have to stay in Greece. Due to the violence and conflict in their home countries, many immigrants are traumatized and need medical attention and therapy.
It is essential to integrate these immigrants into society to help them recover from their struggles, maintain a better standard of living and escape poverty. However, the process of integration is challenging in Greece due to the 2015 financial crisis that left the country with an unstable economy.
The European Union Relocation Program
The European Union has recognized that Greece is one of the primary countries taking in the burden of housing an overwhelming number of refugees. There are, at minimum, 5,200 refugee children from Syria, Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq living in Greece with poor living conditions.
As such, the EU has begun implementing its new relocation program that will allow immigrants to reach other countries throughout Europe. Various non-government organizations, such as the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have aided with this relocation process.
In April, 12 children were relocated to Luxembourg from Greece. This group of refugee children consisted of 11 boys and one girl. Two of these children are from Syria, and 10 are from Afghanistan, ranging from 11 to 15 years old. Germany has also announced that it is applying to take in a group of asylum-seeking children from Greece.
On July 7, a larger group of 25 unaccompanied children were relocated to Portugal from Greece. This group of children consisted of boys between 15 to 17 years old. The next day, another group of 25 minors was relocated to Finland from Greece. The relocation project seeks to resettle about 3,300 refugees, including 1,600 unaccompanied children throughout Europe. These unaccompanied children were separated from their families amid the crisis and do not have any reported family members in Europe. However, some of their family members may have been relocated to other countries.
The Relocation Program Today
The need to complete the EU’s refugee relocation effort is especially prevalent now due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Individuals living in overcrowded refugee facilities are at an increased risk of contracting the novel coronavirus. Inside these facilities, it is incredibly challenging for individuals to practice social distancing. These refugee facilities also lack access to essential medicine, food and sanitized water. Moreover, the lack of clean water makes it challenging for individuals to practice proper handwashing techniques.
While the process of relocating refugees is promising, more needs to be done. Relocated children are now able to live in potentially safer environments that can help them properly integrate and thrive in society. Through the support of the Greece government and U.N. agencies, immigrants can escape violence and have the opportunity they obtain a better standard of living.