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UPDATE August 2018
Support for homeless asylum seekers in Thessaloniki
As the Greek reception facilities to receive asylum seekers are since quite a while again at their limits some people are forced to be homeless in the streets. In Thessaloniki, a hotspot has formed where around 100 to 200 third country nationals live in awful conditions inside an abandoned building. The location is without washing facilities, toilets or even walls. In the vicinity, human traffickers and drug dealers try to take advantage of the resident's vulnerabilities, with tensions and frustrations running high. Reliable and trustworthy information, second only to food and medical care, is urgently needed there. At the abandoned building, rumours can spread like wildfire and access to the asylum procedure and cash assistance is complicated by the lack of a permanent address.
Since early August, the Mobile Info Team has visited the homeless asylum seekers who congregate near the abandoned building at least twice per week to provide assistance in Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Pashto. We seek to identify vulnerable individuals and connect them to possible housing opportunities along with other much needed services. We assist individuals in applying for asylum and try to help persons of concern to navigate the complicated system. This can become frustrating as we sometimes are unable to connect evidently vulnerable people with the services that they would need. However, it remains important to speak and listen to those who feel forgotten and abandoned, to try to assist them as much as we can.
LGBT asylum seekers
Those who identify as LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Trans-sexual) are commonly vulnerable in the asylum seeking community. Most of this group have fled severe persecution in their home countries following threats of punishment or death due to their sexual orientation. Unfortunately, arrival in Europe does not always mean that fear is over for these individuals. The risk of being exposed and facing mobbing, social exclusion or worse is always present when staying in a regular refugee camp.
To inform LGBT refugees about their rights and possibilities, the Mobile Info Team compiled an information sheet some time ago. However, a lot of educational work still needs to be done. For example, many LGBT asylum seekers remain unaware that their sexual identity may be an important reason to receive asylum. To inform as many concerned people as possible, in August, the Mobile Info Team posted about the issue on Facebook and reached more than 700 people in this way. Afterwards, multiple LGBT asylum seekers reached out to us. We were able to supply further information and additionally put them in contact with local LGBT support groups. In turn, these groups will provide specialist assistance and facilitate a safe space where LGBT asylum seekers can meet and exchange with like-minded people.
Making sure that family reunification transfers take place
It is an unfortunate reality that many families are separated through war and persecution. At present, there are legal ways to reunite them but the procedures are often challenging, long and very bureaucratic. A lot can go wrong along the way and, even when a family holds an official acceptance to be reunited, some obstacles remain. Following acceptance, the Greek authorities notify applicants of their travel details via telephone. If they are not able to reach the applicant, the deadline for transfer might be missed, causing serious delay or even a complete cancellation of the reunification.
To ensure that this doesn’t happen, the Mobile Info Team regularly posts about flight transfers and informs all approved applicants who contact us that the phone number held by the Asylum Service must always be up-to-date. In many cases, we have checked with the authorities that the recorded phone number is correct or informed the authorities about a change of phone number. In some cases where the deadline was close to expiring, we connected the Asylum Service with the applicant directly and ensured, at the last possible moment, that the transfer and the reunification would still take place. Our efforts are rewarded with the reality that family members who have been separated for years, can finally be together again.
Providing information through our phone hotline
For more than one and a half years, Mobile Info Team has run a hotline where asylum seekers, migrants and refugees can call or send messages and ask questions about asylum, reunification, tax numbers, travel documents, renewing residence permits and a lot of other issues in Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and English. In the last three months, the hotline has been managed by Razan, our Arabic interpreter, who already has a lot of experience in working in the humanitarian field in Jordan and Greece. On average between 60 to 70 people contact the hotline every week and get an individual follow up on their question or request.
The hotline has proven to be a crucial aspect of Mobile Info Team's operation. As well as enabling us to interact with people outside of our casework and beyond the reach of our camp visits, it also serves as a consistent contact point where the team can be reached. This allows us to distribute the number to asylum seekers we meet who are without a phone and permanent residence, so that they can reach us remotely in the future. Other NGOs have also connected with us through the hotline to ask questions or make referrals. We will continue with the hotline service for the foreseeable future and we welcome anyone who wishes to reach out to us in this way!