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Humanitarian crisis in Greece – Red Cross scales up response

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Athens, Greece, 8 March 2016. Thousands of Syrian and Iraqi refugees are sleeping rough at the port of Piraeus in Athens where have been stranded for several days. Hellenic Red Cross provides daily humanitarian assistance © C.Haga/IFRC

Caroline Haga, IFRC

Despite EU talks with Turkey to stop the flow of migrants into Greece, more than 1,300 vulnerable migrants on average continue to arrive to the Greek islands every day. Over 35,000 migrants have been stranded across Greece for the past weeks. The situation is particularly dire in northern Greece with around 20,000 people, mostly families, waiting close to the border.

“We are moving as quickly as we can to scale-up our response. At the moment, we have tens of thousands of people stranded in Idomeni and the surrounding area. 60 per cent are women and children,” said Angelica Fanaki, Head of Migration Operations at the Hellenic Red Cross. “Food is in short supply, conditions are worsening and many people have waited for over two weeks without proper shelter or clothing. People are also stranded in Athens, on the Greek islands and in cities across the country.”

“The Hellenic Red Cross has been responding since the onset of the crisis, supporting the close to one million migrants who have crossed the country. As the situation is worsening and people are having to stay for longer periods of time, the IFRC is significantly scaling up its support to meet the growing humanitarian needs,” says Karen Helene Bjornestad, Head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) office in Greece.

IFRC experts in health, water and sanitation, and other areas are currently evaluating the most acute needs with National Societies across Europe standing ready to urgently bring in additional support. The IFRC will bring in significantly more food, medical teams and supplies, and any other humanitarian aid needed. The emergency support will primarily be targeted to northern Greece given the grave situation, but also to areas around Athens and mainland Greece.

More than 132,000 migrants have arrived to Greece during the first months of 2016, compared to 6,000 arrivals in the same time period the previous year. Almost 75 per cent are fleeing the war-torn countries of Syria and Iraq. Due to new border regulations introduced by countries along the Western Balkans route, thousands of vulnerable migrants are now forced to wait in substandard conditions.

Hellenic Red Cross activities across Greece


Over 90 per cent of all migrants come to Europe arrive on unseaworthy rubber dinghies to several small Greek islands. The Hellenic Red Cross has provided support to hundreds of thousands of migrants across Lesvos, Kos, Chios and Samos by distributing emergency supplies, first aid activities, psychological support and activities for children. Volunteer rescue teams have helped thousands to the shore. Red Cross mobile charging and WiFi stations, free phone calls to families and information services have helped thousands more to contact their families and access life-saving information.


The Hellenic Red Cross has been active in the temporary reception centres in Athens distributing relief items and providing health services as well as a telephone information hotline in various languages. The HRC is one of the only organisations providing humanitarian aid to the thousands currently stranded at the port of Piraeus, including food and hygiene items, a mobile medical unit and activities for children. In addition, the HRC is assisting homeless people, including migrants, residing in main squares and other areas in Athens by handing out relief items, information and providing first aid.

Northern Greece

The Hellenic Red Cross has been assisting migrants at the Idomeni border camp since the onset of the crisis with a health clinic, distributing food parcels, baby supplies, water, hygiene kits, sleeping mats and backpacks, and providing activities for children. Recently, the Red Cross medical staff has treated over 120 patients in eight hours every day in Idomeni. At the request of the authorities, HRC staff are also providing medical aid and distributing relief items at the recently established Diavata camp. The Red Cross activities across northern Greece are expected to be scaled up shortly.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent is working in 28 countries across Europe with more than 87,000 volunteers. More than 650,000 people have been reached so far with medical care, emergency supplies and help to reconnect with loved ones lost along the route.