In Greece, UN envoy Angelina Jolie Pitt shines light on emergency response for thousands of refugees

A mother holds her crying child, as her three other daughters sit by the fire outside their makeshift tent in Idomeni, Greece. Photo: UNICEF/Tomislav Georgiev

16 March 2016 – Angelina Jolie Pitt, the United Nations refugee agency’s special envoy, is today visiting Greece, which has become the main entry point to Europe for refugees and asylum seekers fleeing Syria and other strife torn countries.

“I am here to reinforce efforts by UNHCR [Office of UN High Commissioner for Refugees] and the Greek government to step up the emergency response to the deteriorating humanitarian situation,” she said. “I look forward to meeting authorities, partners and volunteers working on the ground to improve conditions and ensure the vulnerable are protected.”

Ms. Jolie-Pitt is highlighting the humanitarian situation of thousands of refugee families in Greece, most of whom were forced to flee Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Nearly 85 per cent of all the refugees and asylum seekers who have arrived in Europe landed in Greece since January 2015.

Her first trip to Greece on behalf of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees comes the day after her visit to Lebanon, on the fifth anniversary of the Syrian conflict, where she stressed the need for leadership and coordinated international action to address the root causes of the global refugee crisis.

The Special Envoy's visit comes on the eve of a critical meeting between European Union Member States and the Government of Turkey that will potentially affect thousands of refugees and asylum seekers in Greece, according to UNHCR.

In Greece, she expressed her appreciation for the support and solidarity Greece has shown the hundreds of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers who have landed on their shores after dangerous and difficult, sometimes deadly, journeys.

Ms. Jolie-Pitt also focused on access to adequate reception conditions and protection, including those legal pathways available to refugees and asylum seekers, such as the EU relocation programme.

She has highlighted challenges and constraints facing the emergency response, as well as ways UNHCR could further support the Government and communities in Greece, and promote support for refugees with specific vulnerabilities, such as women-headed households, unaccompanied children, disabled, or those who have been exposed to sexual or gender based violence.

UNHCR has set up eight field offices with hundreds of staff and significant resources to support shelter, water and sanitation, health and protection services among other priorities.

There are more than 40,000 people in Greece who have arrived during the past weeks, who desperately need protection and humanitarian support, but efforts are not meeting all the needs on the ground and the situation is deteriorating daily, according to UNHCR.

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