UNHCR staff Claas Morgenstern (left) and Mohamed Othman preparing thermal blankets in UNHCR warehouse in Western Greece as part of preparations for winter. There are approximately 361 tent shelters and 15 administrative buildings. In this are area of about 31,281 square meters and with the possibility of increasing in size as more refugees may be relocated here as nearby camps are reaching capacity.

Winter preparations on the sites, where thousands of asylum-seekers stay in Greece, are moving forward. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, steps up its assistance to replace tents with prefabricated houses, improves the infrastructure on some sites such as heating and has just finished the delivery of winter items such as UNHCR blankets in over 40 government-run refugee sites across Greece. Other humanitarian organizations join the race against the clock and provide aid on Greek mainland and the islands as part of the winter plan, coordinated with the Greek authorities.

UNHCR is progressing with the replacement of tents with some 1,000 residential containers in eight official sites, with funding from the European Commission-Humanitarian Aid. So far, some 350 prefabricated houses have been installed and 1,800 people are already moving there in Western and Northern Greece, including in Nea Kavala site, north of the town of Thessaloniki. Families that previously stayed in a tent already notice the huge difference, especially on days with low temperatures and autumn rain. The installation of prefabs has brought the number of people currently living in tents to under 9,000 while efforts will continue to reduce this number further.

At the same time, up to 200,000 items for winter – including thermal blankets, sleeping bags, rain ponchos, pairs of leggings, winters socks and beanies – have been delivered to some 38,000 asylum-seekers on Greek mainland and the islands. The distribution was made possible with funding from the European Commission – Humanitarian Aid and donations from the fashion company Uniqlo, as well as thanks to effective cooperation with non-governmental organizations/NGOs (ARSIS, Danish Refugee Council, Elpida Home, the International Rescue Committee, Norwegian Refugee Council, Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, Solidarity Now), volunteer, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies/Hellenic Red Cross. In addition, UNHCR is working on infrastructural upgrades such as heating, roofing and sewage solutions in some 15 sites assigned to UNHCR by the Greek authorities to make them fit for winter.

The above efforts complement the ongoing movement of the most vulnerable asylum-seekers and relocation candidates to small temporary apartments, hotels at special rates and host families, under UNHCR’s accommodation project. So far, over 16,500 reception places in dignified conditions and with support services that include food, hygiene items, basic social support, interpretation and transportation could be created, with funding from the European Commission, in cooperation with NGOs and municipal authorities.

While efforts to improve the living conditions of refugees in Greece continue, UNHCR reiterates its call on European governments and the Greek authorities to speed up and expand the relocation of asylum seekers to other countries, reduce barriers to family reunification and invest more in integration, as long-term solutions for people who have fled violence and need to rebuild their lives in safety.

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