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Today, the Greek Government will begin to evict people with refugee status or subsidiary protection who currently live in houses, apartments and camps under the UNHCR’s ESTIA accommodation scheme. Eventually, their access to cash assistance will also end. This will begin with those individuals who received their refugee status before July 2017 – an estimated 600 people – with further evictions planned to continue indefinitely until the ESTIA program ends. Altogether, roughly 15,000 people will be affected.

In response to this decision from the Ministry of Migration, members of the Survivors2 advocacy group have written a statement outlining their criticism of the Government’s plans. Survivors2 are a group of experts-by-experience who have come together to raise awareness of the issues facing survivors of torture and cruel or inhumane treatment living in Greece. All members are either current or former beneficiaries of MSF’s rehabilitation clinic for victims of torture based in Athens.

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We are Survivors2 – a group of survivors of torture and cruel or inhumane treatment.

We speak-out for the rights and recognition of survivors in Greece. Between us, we have over 20 years of experience as survivors living in this country. In that time, many of us have lived in ESTIA accommodation, many of us still rely on cash-assistance and many of us have experience of homelessness.

We believe the decision of the Greek Government to evict refugees from ESTIA accommodation and end their cash assistance is short-sighted and dangerous.

We know that recognized refugees in ESTIA accommodation were only to be supported for 6 months. We also acknowledge the pressure on the Greek government to address the inhumanity of the hotspots. We have all experienced the horror of these camps so we understand this urgency. But this is not a solution.

There are no realistic living options for refugees who will be forced to leave their accommodation or will lose their financial support.

The Greek Government says go ‘find a job’ or ‘access mainstream benefits’. This is a lovely idea in theory but in reality, it is a dream. We know how hard it is for our Greek brothers and sisters to find work – the official unemployment rate in Greece is over 20%. We know how difficult it is for them to access social housing or welfare benefits – even the most vulnerable Greeks find this difficult. Refugees do not stand a chance.

Discrimination mean access to employment and social benefits are impossible for most refugees in Greece. 

We have been racially abused. We have been told to stand in separate queues – one for Greeks, one for Others. We have been rejected from work even when we know we are qualified to do the job. We have been told we will only get employment if we speak Greek but we have no access to language courses. For those of us who have found employment, we have experienced exploitation: we are over-worked, under-paid and in many cases, not paid at all. This is not employment – it is slavery.

There is only one outcome from the Greek Government’s decision: homelessness. 

For those of us who have experienced destitution, we know the mental impact of this will be catastrophic. Fear, stress, and depression are the every-day reality of the streets. For us as survivors, homelessness meant re-traumatisation and a return to the horrors of the past. The physical dangers are just as lethal: sickness, malnutrition and violence from passers-by and the police. On a social level, refugee homelessness will mean more division between Greeks and migrants, more dependency, and more criminalization of black and brown faces.

We speak as survivors but we believe that homelessness creates vulnerability, whatever your past experiences.

The Greek Government must stop these evictions and continue with the cash assistance scheme.

The Greek Government must invest the necessary time and resources before they move refugees out of assisted shelter.

The Greek Government must provide language classes and better access to employment for refugees.

The Greek Government must make sure refugees have equal access to all social welfare programs.

The Greek Government must recognise the special needs of survivors of torture and guarantee we have access to humane and appropriate accommodation.