The ESTIA Program is a glimmer of hope, but it’s fading away

There are many reasons why a person, a couple or an entire family may decide to leave their country. The need to flee from a conflict, to escape from an environmental disaster or simply the pursuit of a better future for themselves and their children are all motivations that push every day thousands of people to travel, ready for anything, with or without a precise destination. Behind each of these people there is a story with its own characteristics and peculiarities. However, although different from each other, each story is invariably united by a common element. Every journey and every path has a precise starting point: home.

Photo: Clara Fortuny

In 2015-2016, over one million people, mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, left their homes in search of a better future, arriving in Greece, fleeing persecution and war. On the long journey that brought them to Europe, feeling at home was certainly an emotion rarely experienced. Once in Greece, the reception structures, such as tents and containers typical of refugee camps, certainly do not remember, even from a structural point of view, the intimate and familiar dimension of a house.

Following the closure of the “Balkan Route” in 2016, 50,000 people decided to remain in Greece, but without having a place to stay. Therefore, the ESTIA (Emergency Support to Integration and Accomodation) project took place, initially managed by UNHCR, funded by the EU and implemented by numerous NGOs. The ESTIA project is divided in two parts:

  • ESTIA Accomodation Component: this part of the project provides asylum seekers with a real home, in apartments or hotels, located in numerous cities. As a result, 73.000 people have been housed in 16 cities and 7 islands.
  • ESTIA Cash Assistance: in a process of integration and inclusion it is certainly necessary to provide financial support to face the daily expenses. The ESTIA project provides asylum seekers directly with a cash share, so that they can independently manage their funds according to individual priorities.

The implementation of the ESTIA program constitutes a real turning point for the lives of many asylum seekers, who can finally return to savor a semblance of normality. The possibility of living in an apartment, with your family, is extremely important from many points of view. First, the possibility of living in the city allows you to carry out daily activities with greater simplicity, being able to easily reach the school, the supermarket, the pharmacy or the hospital. Furthermore, living in contact with the local community promotes integration and cultural exchange. From a psychological point of view, the benefits are numerous. Having your own space, where you can live peacefully with your loved ones certainly facilitates well-being and tranquility, and avoids the problems caused by forced coexistence in huge, overcrowded structures.

Photo: Laia Benavides

However, in May 2021 the management of the ESTIA Accommodation Component passed from UNHCR to the Migration Ministry of the Greek government, and the ESTIA Cash Assistance had recently the same fate. Since then, the number of available places in apartments has been clearly decreasing. Furthermore, the Ministry of Immigration was unable to effectively take over the reins of the Cash Assistance program, and the inability to provide funds to people in the camps has led to lack of food and many difficulties. Additionally, the decision not to extend the funds, even for a limited period, to asylum seekers who are granted with refugee status has had the consequence of them remaining in the camps, having no other option.

The ESTIA program has proven to have enormous potential, meaning a real step forward for the integration and inclusion of asylum seekers within the social fabric, providing a certain economic independence and renewed dignity. Thanks to this program, many asylum seekers have found a glimmer of hope: let’s not break it.

Photo: Laia Benavides