The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) announced that they would bring an end to field operations in Greece last month on their official website. Their statement started off by highlighting their history on the islands.
The NRC started field operations on Greek islands in the summer of 2015. In 2015, almost a million people crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece. Many were Syrians fleeing the civil war while refugees from other countries like Iraq and Afghanistan also frequented the route. Since then, the EU-Turkey readmission agreement has ramped up security on the route with both the Turkish Coast Guard and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) bolstering their operations.
It has been over two years since the agreement took effect–and it has been relatively successful. While 2016 saw over 173 thousand Aegean crossings, most of them before the deal took effect, less than 30 thousand people crossed the Eastern Mediterranean route last year. In addition to strengthened security on the Aegean, the walling off of border crossings by Balkan states has transformed Greece from a transit country for refugees to a country where those who seek refuge are met with a dead-end. As such the Norwegian Refugee Council has deemed their field operations unnecessary and is pulling out.
This has to do in part with the European Union pulling funds away from INGOs and redirecting them towards Greek authorities. As the influx of refugees to the country has decreased, the EU is now more concerned with long-term integration efforts rather than tending to the short-term basic needs of refugees like housing, medicine and food. The NRC had two focal point in Greece, those being the island of Chios and northern Greece. While the situation on the islands is still critical, the improvement of living conditions for refugees in northern Greece has led to the defunding of INGOs like NRC. In its official statement about leaving Greece, the NRC used its recommendations section to subtly criticize the defunding by highlighting the fact that Greece is dealing with financial difficulties and that outside support in the form of funds and experienced management by institutions like the NRC is required to overcome the difficulties of integration.