The end of the "ESTIA" housing programme for asylum seekers
Significant negative change in the area of social integration of asylum seekers through housing took place on 23/2/2022. In a solemn announcement, citing "improved refugee management", on 23/2/2022 the Ministry of Immigration announced that from 16 April 2022 the ESTIA II housing programme for vulnerable refugees who have been granted asylum will be reduced, due to improved immigration management, with the prospect of closing the programme by the end of this year.
The benefits under ESTIA II mainly include apartments and housing units, as well as the accompanying support services of this housing. In 2019, the management of this programme was transferred from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to the Ministry of Immigration, which claimed that "it would continue normally". Unfortunately, the government's real intentions to abolish one of the most successful integration programmes for refugees and asylum seekers became apparent as soon as the Ministry took over programme’s management. Two quarterly delays occurred in 2021 in the payment of rents, payroll of employees and payment of suppliers, while the beneficiaries of the programme, including families with small children, were left without food cards since October 2021. Fortunately, networks and structures of solidarity of the Municipalities were mobilized to meet their needs.
What is more, the fears of the Municipalities participating in the programme were confirmed that the Ministry would prove reluctant and insolvent towards its obligations, as a result of which they expose themselves to their citizens.
The closure of the programme, which provides housing for refugees and asylum seekers in apartments in urban centres, as a basic condition for social inclusion, while creating significant benefits for local communities reveals the inefficiencies of the National Integration Strategy which seems to constitute a pretext that aims to disburse European resources.
Ms Stella Nanou, a representative of the UNHCR, noted on 23th February 2022 in the newspaper «Efimerida Syntakton»: "The number of reception places is expected to be proportionate and adapted to the population of asylum seekers in the country. However, as we said during the ESTIA programme transition from the UNHCR to the ministry, we continue to believe that ESTIA - even with less capacity - should be maintained as a key part of the asylum system in the country. Moreover, the accommodation of asylum seekers in safe and decent conditions in apartments facilitates their integration and autonomy, promotes social cohesion and interaction with the local community, is cost-effective and works for the benefit of municipalities, local societies and people in need”.
The mayor of Neapolis - Sykeon, Mr Simos Daniilidis, chairman of the Social Policy Committee of KEDE, also expressed in the same newspaper his opposition to the "unacceptable decision" of closing the programme. He pointed out, among other things, that the maintenance of the camps is expensive and that the housing in apartments in the urban fabric ensures smooth integration and strengthens the fight against xenophobia. According to the mayor, what needs to be done is reducing the inhumane settlements that operate on the islands and inland, which are tantamount to prisons and concentration camps, and transferring to the apartments those who are eligible for housing assistance.