The moving of thousands of refugees, some of them from Greek islands to the mainland, could leave many homeless and is deeply concerning, the UN Refugee Agency said Tuesday.

The UNHCR said that the government-arranged exit of some 9,000 recognized refugees from Greece’s reception system, which began Monday, is a “premature” move before they have effective access to employment and social welfare schemes.

“Forcing people to leave their accommodation without a safety net and measures to ensure their self-reliance may push many into poverty and homelessness,” warned UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic at the twice-weekly briefing for the media covering the United Nations in Geneva.

Most of the reception facilities being vacated are on the mainland of Greece, he said.

The 9,000 recognized refugees are no longer asylum-seekers, and therefore, asked by the Greek authorities to leave accommodation facilities they are currently staying in.

“Recognized refugees have to vacate much-needed accommodation for asylum seekers waiting in crowded reception facilities on the Greek Aegean islands. Over 31,000 women, men, and children live in five island reception centers with capacity for fewer than 6,000,” said Mahecic.

He said, however, the UNHCR has continuously expressed concerns that assistance for many recognized refugees is ending too soon before they have effective access to employment and social welfare schemes foreseen by Greek law.

“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and measures to reduce its spread create additional challenges by limiting people’s ability to move, and to find work or accommodation,” said Mahecic.

“Shifting a problem from the islands to the mainland is not a solution.”

Another 11,000 refugees will have to shift from assistance for asylum seekers to general social welfare, once recognized as refugees by Greece’s asylum authorities.

A new law adopted in March 2020 reduces the grace period for recognized refugees from six months to 30 days to transition from organized accommodation and essential support to independent living.

The UNHCR urged Greece to increase the national reception capacity at sites, apartments, hotels, and cash for shelter.

Most of the asylum seekers, about 32% of them are Afghans, another 26% are Syrians, and Iraqis is represented by 12%. The nationals of the Democratic Republic of the Congo make up 5% and Pakistan 4%.

“Most of the affected refugees do not have a regular income, many are families with school-aged children, single parents, survivors of violence, and others with specific needs,” said Mahecic.

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