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As Greece rolls back migrant support, thousands go hungry

In December, Athens terminated a housing Eu-funded programme

08 July, 18:29
(ANSA/AFP) - TRIESTE, 08 LUG - In an out-of-sight flat in one of Athens' poorest districts, dozens of migrant women and young children left exposed by Greece's dwindling asylum support programmes queue for food donations. Deniz Yobo, a 33-year-old woman from Niger has picked up enough rice, lentils, flour, honey and biscuits to fill her kitchen cupboards for the coming month.

A mother of two raising her children alone, Yobo saw her meagre salary all but wiped out this year by the soaring cost of living in Greece. Working as a part-time cleaner, she earns less than 500 euros a month, which is just enough to pay her 350-euro rent.

"Often, halfway through the month, I no longer have enough money to feed my sons," she told. Greece has been steadily slashing benefits offered to asylum seekers and refugees amid a toughening attitude towards migrants across Europe.

Finance assistance of a few hundred euros per month ends once an asylum seeker is granted refugee status. In December, Athens terminated a European Union-funded programme that had offered rented housing to tens of thousands of refugees over the past seven years.

"The programme has completed its mission," the then migration minister Notis Mitarachi said at the time, adding that the "few" claimants had been taken to "modern" camps. Fahima, an Afghan woman in her twenties, was among those dumped on the street by the move. After several months, she and her mother were able to find accommodation in a small studio with another eight people.

Fahima, who has been in Greece for the past six years, has had her asylum application rejected. She therefore finds herself outside the law and is unable to benefit from any state aid.

"I am in a terrible situation where I have no state aid and cannot find employment either," she said. In the past 18 months, the humanitarian aid group Intersos has provided food to over 5,000 migrants and refugees, 54 percent of them minors. - 'Poverty wages' - Matina Stamatiadou, supervisor of the 'Food for All' programme, says the beneficiaries are refugees, rejected asylum seekers, undocumented migrants and migrants who may have jobs but who receive "poverty wages." In just one year, the waiting list for these monthly distributions has quadrupled to more than 2,000 people, she said. Priority is given to applicants in dire straits, such as single women with children or people with serious health problems.

"Greece still considers itself a transit country. However, many refugees have been living here for several years now and want to integrate. "But the government has failed to put in place an effective policy for this purpose," Stamatiadou said.

Intersos Greece general director Apostolos Veizis estimates that around 15,000 refugees in Athens lack access to fully rounded daily meals.

"When you are hungry, you cannot look for work, take care of your legal procedures or your health," Veizis said. In this sort of situation, "to get money, you are also prepared to put yourself in danger, to do illegal activities, to borrow without being able to repay", he underlined. Nearly 60 percent of people aided by the organisation only had access to sufficient food between one and three times a week and were therefore in a situation of severe food insecurity according to United Nations criteria. Hunger also has serious consequences for the physical and mental development of children, says Apostolos Veizis.

"Sometimes my children don't go to school because they haven't eaten and are too tired," said Cynthia Efionandi, a 30-year-old also from Niger. "We hear terrible accounts of adolescent girls who don't go to school when they have their period because the parents cannot afford them sanitary towels" and of hungry children fainting in class, Veizis said.


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