The hunger crisis in Greece is continuing as figures show that 40 per cent of people living in Greek refugee camps are being denied food as a result of  a decision by the Greek government to discontinue the provision of food to people who are not in the asylum procedure.

There are 15,793 people living in camps across Greece, comprising people who are waiting for their asylum claims to be heard and those who have had their claims accepted or denied. It has emerged that new catering contracts for the provision of food in these camps provide enough food to feed just 10,213 people, covering only those still in the asylum procedure and not those who had their asylum claims accepted or rejected. This comes despite calls from the European Commission that the Greek government ensures all persons, particularly the vulnerable, receive food irrespective of their status.

Worryingly high numbers of children, who make up 39 per cent of the population residing in camps, are among those going hungry. Teachers in local primary schools have reported children turning up to school without having eaten, without even a snack to see them through the day. 

Dimitra Kalogeropolou, IRC Greece Director, said:
“It ought to be untenable that people are being left without food in Greece, a country with the resources and the means to provide food and safety to everyone. The IRC has been advocating for an end to this unacceptable situation since October last year, when a change in Greek law meant that the government stopped providing vital services to those not in the asylum process. People are being pushed over the edge; local organisations on the ground witness  children crying because they have not had a decent meal in days. Quite simply, we are witnessing conditions that could amount to a hunger crisis that will have a devastating impact on vulnerable people.

“Things must change. People who have been awarded refugee status in Greece are forced to stay in refugee camps because the lack of substantial integration support means they have no way to make a living or rent their own accommodation. They have nowhere else to go, and the provision of state-provided food is the only means people have to eat. As the Greek Ombudsman has stated, withholding support to refugees, especially without providing measures to guarantee their basic needs are met and they can access services, is unlawful and undermines integration.”

Harlem Desir, Senior Vice President for IRC Europe, said:
“This is a critical situation. We urge the Greek authorities to stop withholding life-saving services, including food. It should be unthinkable for anyone to be deprived of food simply because of their legal status - especially on EU soil. We are equally concerned about the broader trend of Greece failing to adequately support asylum seekers or invest in the integration of refugees in the country.

The IRC and other organisations have called repeatedly on the Greek government to urgently ensure that people in camps do not go hungry, and that refugees are better supported to integrate into their new communities.

The suffering that this approach is causing - and will continue to cause until it is revoked - is another shocking example of EU countries’ failure to agree on a fair, humane asylum system. As France takes the helm of the European Union for the first half of 2022, it has a golden opportunity to drive this forward and make it a reality. This will require strengthening solidarity between EU states, so that countries on Europe’s borders do not continue to shoulder disproportionate responsibility for welcoming new arrivals. It will also be critical to expand safe, legal pathways to protection so that people are not forced to risk their lives on treacherous journeys to EU territory in the first place. And it must invest in integration, so that those arriving in Europe are empowered to rebuild their lives rather than being driven towards starvation.”

The IRC began operating in Greece in 2015, when Europe was experiencing a peak in migration. What started as an emergency response on the island of Lesvos quickly expanded to Thessaloniki and then to camps on the mainland. Currently, the IRC operates in Lesvos, Chios, Samos and Athens, providing emergency support alongside livelihoods, women’s protection and empowerment, and integration programming for recognised refugees.