Aegean Grassroots Report


An overview of the humanitarian crisis in the Aegean from the perspective of NGOs and refugees.

Our Demands

to end the humanitarian crisis in the Aegean?

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Rethinking migration policies


An approach to migration in Europe emphasising deterrence and securing external borders has turned a manageable migration flow to Greece into a humanitarian crisis on the Aegean Islands. This security-focused approach has created vast suffering and even loss of life in the ‘hotspot’ camps where nearly 30,000 people live in deplorable conditions. Human rights violations are a daily reality for all residents of these camps.


The data in this report is based on qualitative input provided by 21 grassroots organisations working with asylum-seekers on the Aegean islands. The organisations were invited to give input in written form to a survey consisting of open-ended questions. Next, this data was compiled with information from additional sources, including relevant reports and articles.


This report aims to provide a broad overview of the humanitarian crisis in the Aegean and offer pragmatic and rights-based solutions based on the expertise of grassroots organisations working with asylum-seekers here. Europe Must Act, on behalf of the grassroots organisations who contributed to this report, urges European leaders and governments to immediately evacuate the Aegean camps and exchange deterrence strategies for a more humane approach which puts the human rights of refugees and asylum-seekers at its core​.


Immediate Actions to Provide Relief to the Aegean Camps

Initiating an orderly and humane decongestion of the Aegean camps

The Aegean camps must be completely evacuated and their residents relocated to reception facilities that ensure dignified living conditions. This must be managed in a way that is orderly and humane. It requires the assistance and support of other European states in relocating asylum-seekers across Europe. The decongestion of the Aegean camps is not a huge logistical challenge. The graph below shows how 30,000 asylum-seekers and refugees (the latest figures being 28,200 as of August 18th 2020) could be distributed among European countries (EU27+3) proportionally to the GDP of each country. A more sophisticated model could be envisaged where other factors are taken into account, such as the number of asylum seekers and refugees currently present in each country. This simplified model, however, aptly demonstrates how manageable it is for people to be equitably distributed across Europe.

Recognising grassroots organisations and refugees as essential partners and stakeholders

This report has exemplified the critical roles of grassroots organisations and the refugee community in the provision of essential services and relief. The refugee communities’ efforts to self-organise during the lockdown force us to leave behind the image of the helpless refugee and instead recognise refugees as active stakeholders. Grassroots organisations have also proven themselves highly responsive and attuned to the needs of the communities that they serve. The criminalisation of solidarity must end and bottom-up initiatives supported by effective collaboration and funds. Both grassroots organisations and refugees must be consulted and informed regularly by relevant authorities on all aspects of camp management. We ask the authorities to do the following: A. Give advance warning of upcoming changes to EU, Greek and municipal policies that affect NGOs’ work on the ground. This will allow for smoother transitions in cases of changes required to the provision of relief and services. B. Grant access to resources such as buildings, equipment and funds used by the government and larger humanitarian organisations to increase grassroot and refugee organisations’ capacities for service provision. C. Include and consult grassroots organisations and refugee community representatives in decision and policy making processes. D. Ensure fair, effective and transparent registration procedures for NGOs as well as transparent and accessible information on legal decisions affecting residency permits of asylum-seekers. E. Set up or bolster independent and effective monitoring mechanisms that hold FRONTEX, national border agencies and security services to account.

Increase financial and technical assistance

Although people must be relocated from the Aegean to other European states as soon as possible, a considerable increase of financial and technical assistance to improve the lives of the people living in the camps is urgently required in the meantime. As aforementioned, basic services such as sanitation, healthcare, food, shelter, safety, legal support, education and leisure are all severely lacking. Greece should not be left to manage the situation in the Aegean by itself. The European Union and European governments have a moral responsibility to provide relief through the provision of expertise and funds. Some of this should be earmarked for grassroots organisations (see recommendation 02). We recommend that this assistance is used to bolster the following essential services: A. Medical care: Increase the number of medical staff including those trained to provide psychosocial support, medical equipment and, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, adequate quarantine facilities. B. Sanitation: Drastically increase the number of toilets and showers, making sure that these facilities are segregated by sex. Ensure running water 24/7 and the daily provision of a minimum 2.5L of drinking water per person. C. Shelter: Implement the construction of dignified shelters. In the short-term, efforts must be made to ensure that existing shelters in the camps can withstand all weather conditions. Guarantee stockpile of emergency shelters in case of loss of shelter in fires or severe weather. D. Legal support: Boost the number of legal staff available to improve the provision of legal information and support to asylum-seekers, ensuring fair hearing of cases. E. Education: Increase the capacity of non-formal education centres by increasing educational infrastructure and improve routes to accessing formal education by working with the Greek government. F. Internet access: Internet access must be ensured in the camps and initiatives by grassroots to provide it must be supported. G. Leisure: Ensure the availability of safe spaces as well as facilities for leisure and social activities which are essential for the mental health of camp residents.

Recommendations for Structural Changes

Establish safe and legal pathways to Europe

Europe must shift away from increased border control initiatives and fund legal pathways for seeking asylum instead. People who are forced to migrate as a result of political/economic instability, conflict or persecution will continue to do so. An approach focused on strong borders and deterrence will only make migrants‘ trajectories more dangerous by increasing their reliance on people-smugglers - it will not stop migration. This has been evidenced by migration experts Ruben Andersson and David Keen. Deterrence and securitisation are counterproductive strategies inspired by fear which have turned a manageable migration flow into a humanitarian disaster. The Global Compact on Safe and Regular Migration adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2018 describes various kinds of possibilities for legal pathways and resettlement including humanitarian admission programmes, family reunification, opportunities for skilled migration, labour mobility and education. European governments must establish such pathways and recognise the essential role of municipalities, the private sector and civil society in successfully implementing them.

Foster solidarity among European states

Solidarity in the form of the physical relocation of asylum-seekers from countries of first arrival to other European states is required. Although Greece represents 1.91% of the EU27’s population and 1.1% of the EU27’s GDP it accounted for 12.2% of all 142,400 first-time asylum applicants registered in 2019 in the European Union. This is not European solidarity. The reception of refugees must not be relegated solely to the countries at Europe’s external borders as is currently the case. European collaboration in the processes of reception and integration of asylum-seekers is vital. The Dublin III regulations assign the responsibility for asylum claims to the EU member state where the first application for international protection is lodged. Yet, a lasting resolution to the humanitarian crisis in the Aegean must go beyond an approach in which European states merely send financial and technical assistance to these ‘countries of first entry’ at Europe’s periphery. Although the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union, just like Norway, Switzerland and Iceland it must be included in an enhanced solidarity mechanism for sharing the responsibility of asylum applications processing.

Increase the role of European cities and municipalities

Cities must be given a greater voice in National and European migration policy making and their efforts in the field of reception and integration must be supported by EU and the Member States‘ governments through funding and expertise. Just like grassroots organisations and refugee initiatives, European cities and municipalities have been largely ignored by European governments in policy discussions on migration. Migration has been considered as a competency of states’ central governments. Yet, while protracted policy debates and negotiations take place at the national level, cities and local authorities are the ones who take action - almost every aspect of the reception and integration of newcomers takes place at the local level. Local communities welcome refugees and provide them with accommodation, language classes and employment opportunities. The hard work done by cities in the implementation of these policies justifies their inclusion in the earlier stages of the policy-making process. We call on policy makers to follow the recommendations of migration experts Petra Bendel, Hannes Schammann, Christiane Heimann and Janina Stürner: A. Strengthening access to EU funds for municipalities: The results of city-led pilot projects for refugee reception and integration, funded through the Urban Innovative Actions initiative, have demonstrated the high potential of the local level for successful policy innovation in this area (Utrecht, Vienna). Such positive experiences should be strengthened by facilitating munici- palities’ direct access to EU funding. B. Giving municipalities a greater say in EU migration policy: Cities can improve the capacity of national governments to make decisions by providing them with up-to-date information, suggesting alternatives, sharing innovative practices, etc. C. Implementing a municipal relocation mechanism: Giving cities the ability to relocate asylumseekers to their jurisdiction when they have the capacity allows for the distribution of asylum-seekers to communities that are ready and willing to receive newcomers. This will relieve the pressure Greek communities are experiencing whilst ensuring refugees dignified living conditions. The collaboration between municipal authorities and local stakeholders on the one hand, and supranational institutions (UNHCR, IOM and UNICEF) and national governments on the other, can facilitate the expansion of localised bottom-up resettlement initiatives to complement existing legal pathways to Europe.

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