Originally built to house 3,000 persons but hosting up to five times this capacity, living conditions in the Moria migrant camp have been alarming for many years. However, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new low was reached. Due to severe overcrowding and appalling hygiene conditions, a potential coronavirus outbreak within the confines of the camp was widely considered to be a disastrous – and yet by no means unlikely – scenario. In early September, fear became reality. Soon after the confirmation of the first COVID case within the camp and the imposition of lockdown measures, a fire whose origins remain unclear destroyed most of the camp facilities, rendering more than 12,000 migrants homeless.
For many months, civil society organisations have been trying to prevent this scenario from happening by improving living conditions in the camp. With support from EPIM, the Starfish Foundation initiated the emergency handwashing programme #SafeHands, installing handwashing stations and mobilising volunteers among camp residents to reduce the risk of infection. The project did not only contribute to the implementation of hygiene measures in the camp, but also gave volunteers a possibility to contribute to the protection of their communities. In light of current circumstances, support needs on Lesvos have reached unprecedented levels, whilst support pathways previously provided by CSOs face an uncertain future.
EPIM’s support to the Starfish Foundation was part of a larger pool of short-term grants, provided through a new funding mechanism which was introduced in March 2020 as a response to the rapidly deteriorating situation for migrants in Greece. Even before COVID-19 reshaped the public health landscape, the Greek government´s decision to suspend asylum claims, growing tensions at the Turkish border and an increasingly hostile operating environment for CSOs created a multi-dimensional emergency in the migration field.
To enable timely and targeted action, EPIM’s exceptional and spontaneous ‘Greece Emergency Response Fund’ was designed to ensure high flexibility and quick decision-making. Based on a total budget of 150,000 EUR, the EPIM Secretariat provided grants of up to 20,000 EUR to existing or former grantee organisations who were provided with a great level of flexibility to use funds where most needed.
A key objective was to ensure complementarity between grants in terms of geographical scope, beneficiary groups and the type of support provided. Based on concrete needs observed in the field, grants have since been made to eight organisations: Aitima, Greek Council for Refugees, Greek Forum of Refugees, Human Rights 360, Lesvos Solidarity, Doctors of the World Greece, METAdrasi, and the Starfish Foundation. Together, these organisations have provided medical, legal, sanitary and psychosocial support to both children and adults on the Greek mainland and on islands such as Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos.
“We were able to reach over 600 new beneficiaries, whilst also ensuring continued medical assistance to chronic patients who were struggling to access medicine.” – Doctors of the World Greece
Through the grants, CSOs were able to maintain their operations during a particularly difficult time, and to reach out to new beneficiaries who had not received prior support. In doing so, they not only provided critical support to migrants, but were also able to respond to the needs of other vulnerable groups. Moreover, the grants allowed some CSOs to increase their visibility towards other actors and to enhance the impact and sustainability of their interventions through additional funding or new partnerships.
“Through our ability to provide food support and hygiene materials, we were able to offer solutions and to build up a structural dialogue with the managing authorities of the camps.” – Greek Forum of Refugees
As illustrated by the alarming developments on Lesvos, since the inception of EPIM’s Emergency Response Fund, challenges have increased on many levels. CSOs are reporting rising levels of xenophobia, increased levels of homelessness and domestic violence among migrant communities, restrictive access to asylum procedures, and worsening healthcare for migrant children, combined with an increasing tendency to criminalise support and a shrinking space for meaningful dialogue with decision-makers.
EPIM’s Greece Emergency Response Fund illustrates that even small contributions can make a difference for CSOs and beneficiaries on the ground. For more information and learning exchange, please contact the EPIM secretariat.