black and whire image of people standing in front of small tents

Greek government quietly withdraws cashcards to leave 25,000 refugees at risk

On Thursday 15th April, the Secretary General of Migration and Asylum, Mr. Manos Logothetis, put out a low key press release on the department’s website. A few tweaks here and there to refugee funding means anyone not living in state accommodation will lose access to a cashcard on 1 July 2021. This decision by the populist right-wing government is catastrophic and the refugee worker community is extremely anxious.

The UNHCR give a conservative estimate of 25,000 people currently in flats paid for out of their cashcards or funded by small charities like CRIBS International. For families unable to access charitable accommodation and/or the support of cash cards it can mean overcrowding, bedbugs, no hot water, sleeping in corridors or balconies (and paying for it).  This payment may come in the form of systematic rape or slave labour. Food comes from solidarity kitchens and sometimes from market bins. This is really bad but it is about to get so much worse. This is going to fall apart.

Without a cash card, these 25,000 people (at least) will no longer have any money to pay their rent or buy food. Small charities, like CRIBS, are already full to the brim and have extensive waiting lists of desperate families. We can’t help. The solidarity kitchens are stretched to breaking point too.

What is going to happen?

Come the 1st July (the start of the holiday season) refugees will run out of money. Evictions will increase and landlords will rent their properties on AirBnB for a whole lot more. The streets of Athens will be packed with hungry, thirsty, refugees.

25,000 people will be hard to hide in the city but less so in the rural country and mountains – of which there is an abundance of in Greece. The EU has just agreed to give €250m of funding for five new structures on the islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Kos and Leros. A word of caution though, this Greek government has never been too worried about where EU refugee money is spent. The camps will be in the middle of nowhere. Current rules mean that only registered organisations can work in the camps. Registering an NGO in Greece is virtually, and deliberately, impossible. Even the EU has been so bold as to criticise the Greek NGO registration process.

The police will round up homeless people, just as they have done all winter in the capital’s Victoria Square. This is a well-known gathering spot for homeless people and close to many NGO centres. The authorities will bus people to camps where it is illegal to send out photographs of conditions. We have seen these conditions and they amount to food crawling with maggots, no water for washing, snakes, mosquitoes, overheating, suicides, minimal – if any – education. We know this will happen and, like before, calls for action when desperation increases will be ignored. No scrutiny, no problem. Things are going to swiftly go from bloody awful to unimaginable.

As ever, we say what can we do? We will continue to make things a bit better for a small number of people. But the political backdrop has just been painted a far darker colour, and our task has become much harder.

Please help

At present our amazing donors and volunteer team are providing housing and support to 17 families. Nine of these are without cashcards and receive no state support so CRIBS provides a monthly stipend to cover family living expenses. Eight of our families are currently accessing state funds via their cash card and so CRIBS does not need to contribute towards their family living expenses.

  • We are currently paying £1,736 per month in family living expenses.
  • When the eight families lose their cash card income in July, we will need to find an additional £1,215 per month.
  • Yearly this is an increase of 67.5% (from £20,834 to £34,897) at a minimum. In reality with other emergency payments e.g. medications that we currently cover for non-cashcard families it will be more than that.

Another huge impact will be that it will become even more difficult to move families away from CRIBS accommodation and into independent living once their baby reaches 12 months old. At present, our families with cashcards are able to save towards a deposit and rent – our families without a cashcard rely on our Moving On grant (capped at 750 Euros) to cover this. Even with the Moving On grant we recognise that with no income it is impossible to cover rents and we fear that our families may end up living on the streets and in parks. This is not safe for anybody, let alone a small child.

We are already planning the following measures:

  • Advising families with cashcards to save for when the cashcard ceases.
  • Reassuring them that we will all do our very best to support them.
  • Taking steps to source food supplies and community kitchens that our families can access.
  • Decided not to rent any further accommodation and to stop any expansion plans to address the overwhelming demand for housing from pregnant women and those with new-borns who are forced to live in precarious and dangerous situations.

This isn’t enough and we really need your help. Please can you consider a one off or regular donation to CRIBS for our Mayday Appeal? Use the link below to help bridge the cash card gap over the next year. If you are a UK tax payer, please select the giftaid option. Thank you.

Donate now, support CRIBS families

Greek government plays hard politics with asylum seekers

By Carla Deckers

After some months of hectic activity behind the scenes, we are back with a new post on the political situation regarding asylum and migration matters in Greece.

Everyday, dinghies are arriving at the shores of Lesvos, Chios or Samos carrying desperate people, among them many pregnant women and babies. Camps, such as Moria are dramatically overcrowded. This year alone, 62,000 people arrived on the islands. Winter is close and news of people freezing to death will come. 

New policies

Obviously the situation has to change as quickly as possible. However, the direction the Greek government is heading towards is alarming. Here is a brief overview on what the new Greek government plans to do.

Politico and The Guardian report that overcrowded camps on the islands will be shut down and replaced by detention centres. These may be on uninhabited islands or in isolated areas on the mainland.

These centres will be closed facilities. People’s freedom of movement will be severely restricted. They will not be free to go in and out as they wish. They will have to stick to certain schedules

What’s the point of these changes? 

  • By establishing these detention centres, deportations will be easier and faster
  • Only registered NGOs will have access to the camps and these registrations are tightly controlled.
  • These changes will not improve the conditions of asylum seekers.

Impact on lives

“Asylum seekers can be detained in Greece for extended period and with limited means of appeal (the asylum rejection), in clear violation of international standards, under which detention should not be the rule.” 

Amnesty International comment on the government’s plans

The International Organisation of Migration (IOM) warned that camps on the  Greek mainland, especially Athens and Thessaloniki, are already beyond capacity. 

By early 2020 more than 20,000 asylum seekers will be transferred to the mainland. What does this mean for CRIBS International? Work on the ground will become even tougher. Accommodation will become scarcer, hospitals more overcrowded and discriminatory attitudes will increase.

So please everyone, spread the word. Discuss this with  friends, family or neighbours and keep on supporting us. Donations are needed more than ever. 

Sophie’s Diary – part two

So, my aim at blogging every other day lasted as far as day two! 

Hospital visits

The following week was filled with going to the hospital with F to see her newborn son. Each day we thought he would be sent home the next day, and each day he wasn’t. We were told the baby was well, but we must wait for the test results to be sure.

I understand and appreciate the caution taken by the Greek hospitals but also worry about the impact of separating a baby from his mother for 10 days at less than three weeks old, and the impact on future breastfeeding (because I’m an expert at all this now you know! – Thanks Sally!)

image of a baby in hospital
F’s baby in hospital

A week later on the Wednesday we also took F’s three year old daughter to the hospital with a suspected urine infection. This involved a lot of waiting around, but F was able to go and feed baby regularly while I waited with her daughter trying to keep her entertained.

I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to be a single mother with a 3 year old and a baby in a foreign country with no family, and husband still stuck in Syria.

So, I was happy to be able to help at this even more distressing time. 

Good news and difficult decisions

We also had a success story … and then a very difficult decision to make. A CRIBS family had moved out – the dad had got a job and with the support of CRIBS they found their own flat. This was wonderful news, and is exactly what the charity is about – giving people some stability in their hour of need, and enabling them to find their feet in a new country, develop their language skills and find work. 

This meant we were able to look to our waiting list to decide who to move in next. This turned out to be pretty awful – we had 7 families on the waiting list. We talked through their situations, including:

  • A pregnant mum with diabetes and a toddler
  • A woman sleeping on the floor of a church with her newborn
  • A woman sleeping in a park with a sick newborn 

We had to make that decision and we did so as a group.

When you are having to decide what’s worse between situations like this you really realise how bad things are.

When a mother with a newborn baby can’t access housing provided by authorities, you have to ask where the system has gone wrong, where all that EU money has gone. 

Free shop, new knickers

Another day or so was spent helping Qasim and Shazia with the CRIBS Free Shop – which is currently opening on an ad hoc basis to provide the families with the things they need, with dignity and respect.

a man stands next to rails of clothes in the CRIBs Free Shop
Qasim in the Free Shop

They can browse the clothes, household items, kitchen equipment, books and toys and choose what they’d like – just like any other shop, but minus the payment at the end, all thanks to the wonderful people bringing and sending donations. 

We had just had a huge delivery of women’s knickers from a local supplier arranged by the wonderful Mary Dallas and enabled by the huge success of my “Smalls for Sophie” campaign. We raised £110 and received an additional £100 from the Aagean Sol Network. So far this has purchased 132 pairs of knickers and we are looking to buy some toiletries this week with some of the remaining money. Any extra will go to rents etc, as mentioned in the Facebook appeal.

Thanks so much to everyone who donated, we had lots of happy customers, and plenty left for other women who we expect to be serving in the next week or so. 

A handbook

In between all this I finally got to meet Brittany and her gorgeous baby Ariyan. We talked about what was needed to help operations run more smoothly on the ground, and among other things we agreed to write up a CRIBS Handbook – to get all this extensive information from people’s minds into a document that can be used by others to run things day-to-day. 

In addition, my time has been spent creating processes and policies to make life easier for everyone. It may sound boring to some and don’t worry I won’t go into detail, but I love coming up with something that I know will make things much simpler and save so much time! 

This has of course been broken up with more lovely food and chai from Shazia, as well as a much needed visit to the island of Evia to visit Mary Dallas and have a break from the madness of Athens!

One week left – I don’t know where the time has gone, and lots to do in this last week, but feeling very happy to be part of such wonderful and essential work. 

Sophie’s Diary

Sophie is volunteering with CRIBS in Athens for a month. She will be working closely with staff and volunteers there to help put operational systems in place. She has kindly offered to blog her experience to give a sense of daily life on the ground with CRIBS.

First day in Athens

Getting my bearings with the neighbourhood, did some shopping and grabbed a coffee while going through my notes and trying to work out where each family is up to, and things to discuss when I meet the team on the ground later.

We had a very effective meeting – me, Mohammed, Qasim and Shazia, talking through lots of different things that we want to work on, and where the families are up to. We talked for 3 hours and still didn’t cover everything I aimed to – which just shows the immense amount of work on the ground here. The organiser in me couldn’t wait to get typing the notes up and make plans, and was looking forward to meeting Brittany who had stayed home with the baby.

‘There would be time tomorrow’ I thought …..

I was of course treated to a huge wonderful meal by Shazia enjoyed in the company of mum Jamila and baby Fatima, also living the flat. Gorgeous four year old Hania had gone to bed worn out after giving me a very warm welcome on arrival.

Sophie and Shazia at the end of a busy first day

Day 2: the real work begins!!!

We had agreed that I would accompany Farida to the hospital to see her baby, freeing Mohammad up to make some appointments, pay bills and buy fans.

We arranged for a medical student from MVI to come to the hospital with us to try to determine whether the baby really needed to stay in hospital. The news was good, they were not too concerned, but they wanted to keep baby in while allergy results came back so they could keep an eye on him. It was just wonderful seeing mums face light up as she saw him, she was able to breastfeed and we then had some time on the phone with Shayma interpreting what we had been told.

We now needed a breast pump so she could express milk at home to bring into the hospital. After lots of messaging we arranged to borrow one from Amurtel. I then went on the hunt for containers to store the milk, and a freezer bag to transport it to the hospital. This sounds simple but I was passed from one place to the next until I finally found what I was looking for.

Simple tasks like this become very exhausting in the 33 degree heat traipsing around Athens!

By the time I got back to Farida it was almost 9pm. After some miming and explanations, with the help of Google translate, about how often etc, she was finally able to express some milk!

I updated Sally on my way back and just when I thought my day was finished she told me that a lady from Congo had been in touch with her saying she needed help, food, has a baby and is pregnant. We are full at the moment so I couldn’t do anything about accommodation. I spoke to her and she was ok for the night but agreed to meet her the next day.

Ok, clocking off 10.30pm. No notes written up and no chance to meet Brittany. I leave Qasim a voicemail explaining I can’t help him at the shop all day tomorrow as planned but would come after the hospital. He had spent the day dealing with a huge truck load of donations to the shop; goodness knows how he fit it all inside. He quickly rang me to say don’t worry, he can manage, I must focus on the urgent things. How thoughtful of him!

I check Facebook and see Sally has set up a fundraiser for the extra costs of storage containers for the milk, freezer bag and transport to hospital. Already it has got £75 from only 3 donors, and I’m left feeling overwhelmed at people’s generosity and understanding, not to mention the scale of the work ahead. Time for a good nights sleep!