The Emergency Support to Integration and Accommodation (ESTIA), was initially implemented by UNHCR in collaboration with the local authorities and NGOs and funded by the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO). The project provides temporary accommodation for relocation candidate and vulnerable asylum seekers through rental apartments in various parts of Greece. The second phase of the program is being implemented by the Ministry of Migration and Asylum in an effort of centralization of the immigration policy.
 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
by Aimilia Voulvouli | University of Thessaly
It is early in the morning in the inter-cultural centre Stavrodromi in Karditsa, Greece, and employees as well as beneficiaries, that is, international protection seekers are frustrated. Stavrodromi, which can be translated as “Crossroads”, is a pilot infrastructure created through the “Emergency Support to Integration and Accommodation” – ESTIA program. It is located in the heart of the city, at the Municipal Market which is a bazaar styled structure that hosts public and private businesses as well as a social grocery store, a bar, a small museum, the Red Cross branch of Karditsa, a radio station, a local newspaper, cultural associations and it is generally considered a meeting point by the locals.
Stavrodromi has been founded by the Development Agency of Karditsa (its Greek acronym reads as ANKA) and hosts all the social services of ESTIA. Eventually, it became a point of reference for the beneficiaries. There, they can get social services aimed at them or information on other services they need. It also runs a language school for Greek, Arabic and French. Computer spaces are also available for the beneficiaries to use, as well as a space for women and their children to spend their time creatively.
In May 2022 the last installment of the funding of 2021 has not yet been allocated to implementing bodies such as ANKA. Without these installments, rent and utilities are going to be overdue for the rental apartments that are used by the ESTIA program. A few months ago, the cash assistance program which was initially implemented by UNHCR was taken over by the Greek authorities which also resulted in delays in payment. For about six months now, both employees and beneficiaries find themselves in an indeterminate situation. Employees don’t know when they are going to get paid for the services they have signed a contract to provide, and whether these contracts are going to be renewed. The beneficiaries don’t know when they are going to get their cash assistance or whether their shelters are going to be secure.
“We had to change apartment and live with two more families and now we are told that this might happen again due to financial difficulties. We are like children here who are told what to do. There is no stability”, said Tarik, one of the beneficiaries, during our interview earlier that week in May 2022. Similarly, John said during an informal discussion while he was visiting Stavrodromi to meet up with a potential employer: “My asylum interview is in May 2023, in the meantime I wake up in the morning and I don’t know what’s next. Am I going to have the same apartment? Am I going to be able to find a more steady job? I am now working here and there whenever there is a need for hands from the employers that ANKA is in liaison with. I feel like a child whose everyday life gets dictated by my parents and I have to improvise and be creative the whole time”. On the other end, Maria a psychologist working for ESTIA told me that she has already started looking for a new job because she understands that the stability that she had until now is not going to last long. In an informal discussion I had with the CEO of ANKA back in December, he told me that while they are legally not obliged to continue offering their services since they have not received the agreed amount, they feel morally obliged to do so, for the beneficiaries, the employees and the owners of the apartments they rent. “But for how long?” he said. I asked him how they are going to deal with the lack of funds in the meantime and he replied that he and his colleagues are trying to find ways which are not exactly official at the risk of having themselves held accountable by the home owners, the suppliers of food and other basic necessities and other employees of ESTIA.
Heath Cabot (2013:453), writes that the indeterminate effects of “aid encounters in the context of asylum procedures may give rise to a circumscribed agency” that attempts to overcome structural hindrances and institutional gaps. Is it through this agency, within the ‘capitalist cracks’, of people acting ‘in-and-against the system’ that arrival situations are being created, transformed and appropriated in Karditsa? How can/should beneficiaries position themselves in such a process? Which are the legal indeterminacies and how creative can moral praxis become?
Our fieldwork thus, revolves around the formal but mainly the informal infrastructures that are created through crossroads and despite off the structural hindrances of ESTIA.
Cabot, H. 2013 “The social aesthetics of eligibility: NGO aid and indeterminacy in the Greek asylum process”. American Ethnologist 40(3): 452-466.
Holloway, J. 2010 Crack Capitalism. London: Pluto Press
Marry-Anne, Karlsen, M. Jacobsen Christine, and Khosravi Shahram. 2020. Waiting and the Temporalities of Irregular Migration: Taylor and Francis. With a chapter on Greece by Katerina Rozakou.