It was supposed to be the chance for a fresh start, but having successfully navigated the bureaucratic procedures, it appears Sara’s problems in Greece have just begun.
After interviews and a half-year wait, the 31-year-old, who faced political persecution in her homeland, Iran, was given asylum, but fears she soon won’t have a roof over her head.
“Where can we go now?” lamented Sara, who was told she and her partner, Barak, have to leave the hotel they had previously been allowed to stay in for free because they are no longer asylum-seekers.
More people are now emerging at the other end of the country’s asylum system after a long and uncertain wait.
For those allowed to remain in Greece, concerns are growing that too little is being done to help them try to build a future and integrate into their new home.
Refugees who find themselves trapped in Greece face a stark choice; take an expensive risk with smugglers or navigate an asylum system barely able to cope with the demand.
Nearly 13,000 have been relocated from Greece to other EU countries but for some of those who remain — a total that is officially around 60,000 people but thought to be less — and are given asylum, deep uncertainty awaits.
Humanitarian assistance has targeted asylum-seekers, but now needs to shift toward a longer term view to ensure those like Sara and Barak are not left in the cold just as they begin to rebuild their lives, said Eleni Takou of Greek NGO Solidarity Now.
“I understand that there’s a point in someone’s life where funding has to stop, but there is a need to do gradual integration,” Takou said.
It also appears there is little clarity on whether the vital cash assistance provided to those seeking asylum will continue after asylum is given.
A number of NGO’s have told VOA it is likely to be retained in some form for some time, but that hasn’t reassured Wessam Alkatreb, a Syrian currently living on the Greek island of Lesvos.
Recently granted asylum, he has been told he stands to lose his cash assistance next month, and has decided to remain in the Moria camp because he can live there for free.
“I waited nine months to get my [identity] papers, but I can’t afford to go to Athens,” he said.
Some are questioning why the government is not doing more.
Solidarity Now’s Takou maintains that millions of dollars for integration from a larger European Commission fund to aid the refugee situation in Greece have not been put to use.
For her, the relatively small amount targeting integration, and the apparent failure to even begin to use it, speak volumes.
“This falls under the whole idea that we don’t want people to get integrated into Greece because the worse it [their situation] is the more likely they might leave at some point.”
The Ministry of Migration and Policy defended its approach, saying it plans to create integration centers and that it has set up a strategy covering “all integration aspects,” ranging from early education to health and employment.
But concerns remain about the long-term impact if efforts to assist and integrate the new population are lackluster.
For those stripped of assistance, becoming self-sufficient is a challenge in a country where unemployment stands at more than 23 percent, the highest in the European Union.
There also remains a lack of awareness about the assistance that is available, such as access to state medical care, said UNHCR’s Petros Mastakas.
“There needs to be efforts to take into account refugees when it comes to state planning for things like housing or social benefits,” he said, adding, “It’s about realizing integration has added value.”
Failing to help realize this value, warns Takou, is not just damaging for refugees, but also poses a risk to wider society.
Takou highlighted reports people are remaining in refugees camps after being given asylum, warning that such continuing division only serves to marginalize communities, breeding delinquency and worse.
Sara and Barak thought they had left the camps behind with their move into a hotel, but are not sure if they could return there if they wanted to.
The prospect of being kicked out onto the street is making them question any plans they had to start anew in Greece.
The recognition from the asylum service that they are entitled to a life in Greece has instead made them question whether they may try to once again find their way into another EU country, regardless of the rules.
“We almost wish we had not received any answer,” said Barak. “I don’t see how we can have a future in this country.”
*Sara and Barak’s surnames have been omitted to protect their identities.