Starting in 2015, the European Commission has been providing funding to support the humanitarian response in Greece through the Emergency Support to Integration & Accommodation’ (ESTIA) programme managed by its European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO). ESTIA is implemented by UNHCR and a wide array of partners to provide a package of assistance that entails multipurpose cash assistance to meet basic needs, housing and services to refugees and asylum seekers (persons of concern).
Multipurpose cash is a dignified and appropriate form of assistance in a European country like Greece and is helping persons of concern to meet their basic needs, with the bulk of cash spent on food. The provision of urban accommodation with bathrooms, running drinking water, washing and cooking facilities, utilities and internet – all free of charge – has helped persons of concern meet their shelter needs and most of their WASH and energy needs in a dignified manner.
Synergistic impacts have been created by the combination of cash assistance and free urban accommodation, with positive protection outcomes, such as widespread feelings of safety and minimization of particularly harmful coping strategies. Negative protection outcomes that multipurpose cash has not been able to redress are for instance linked to accommodation in sites on islands, where thousands of persons of concern live in overcrowded and in some instances unsafe conditions.
The cash value was indicated by all persons of concern met and several key informants interviewed as insufficient to address multiple household basic needs, including food, hygiene items and education costs. Large families with children faced substantial additional costs for baby diapers, while persons of concern living away from downtown Athens incurred large transport costs.
Developing a strategy to integrate persons of concern into the social protection scheme and clarifying the duration of the cash and housing assistance, are recognized by all as critical priorities, and rightfully so. While efforts are directed at developing a way forward, there is a pressing need to improve information flows and communications and explore ways to put persons of concern on a more explicit path towards self-sustainability and integration in Greece.