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Most questions that international nongovernmental organizations get from refugees and migrants sheltering in Greece these days have to do with how they can get out. Aid officials working on the ground told Devex they often are asked, “How long will I be here? When can I get out of Greece?” or “ What is going to happen to me and my family?”

Now several years into the refugee crisis in Europe, basic humanitarian needs such as food and shelter are no longer the primary concern. Instead, many of the 60,000 migrants and refugees in Greece need legal help. Protection, including counseling, dissemination of information and legal representation have now become a fundamental requirement for the refugees. Asylum-seekers need to learn how to file and support their claims, which can take years to process. Victims of crimes need to know how they can seek justice. Nearly everyone needs to know what rights they have to move on from Greece.

“We all see the situation now evolving more towards being a protection crisis, rather than a humanitarian crisis,” Kiriakos Giaglis, director of Danish Refugee Council Greece, told Devex. “There are not enough possibilities to give individual refugees access to free legal aid, if they need one.”

For organizations seeking to help, legal aid poses an enormous challenge. NGOs must confront language barriers, limited funding, logistical obstacles, and an overwhelmed court system. In that context, many are focusing their efforts on appeals alone, hoping to pick up the most difficult or needy cases.

A difficult context

Refugees in Greece are scattered across camps and cities throughout the country, each settlement with a different social, political and legal scenario. There are currently over 60,000 persons of concern in the country, spread out between approximately 50 sites.

The crisis has been subject to major political changes. In March, the European Union signed a deal with Turkey in hopes of stemming the inflow of migrants to the continent. Arrivals intensified in the months leading to implementation of the deal and some NGOs pulled out in protest, removing their support from the Greek authorities.

Migration and asylum policies changed as a result of the agreement, but the decentralized Greek geography impeded the information from flowing out systematically. Many migrants and refugees didn’t have access to information about how the deal would impact them.

There is also a different understanding about the asylum processes in each island as well as on the mainland. “You have many sites, but many of them don’t have the right capacity to provide legal aid and information”, said Giaglis.

Claire Whelan, protection and advocacy adviser at Norwegian Refugee Council, offers one example of the variation: there are almost 3,000 refugees in Chios, where she is based, and only seven lawyers, not including volunteers.

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Ahead of the World Humanitarian Summit next week, discussions are ramping up within the aid community about how to open up to smaller, local actors. High-level politicking may make wholesale change difficult, but experts tell Devex that there are ways of putting reforms into practice at the grass-roots level, where programs are unfolding every day.

As the eyes and the ears of their organizations, aid workers have the power to re-orientate and reorganize things from the ground. Devex spoke with three humanitarian professionals, including the author of a recent report, to suggest six practical steps aid workers can take to work toward reform.

Christina Bennett, co-author of the Overseas Development Institute’s report “Time to Let Go,” suggests one simple tweak: drop the words “development” and “humanitarian” and think in terms of short-, mid- and long-term instead. Madara Hettiarachchi, head of humanitarian programs Asia and Middle East at Christian Aid, believes that preparedness is the key to a more inclusive response. Saman A. Majed — general director of REACH, a local NGO in Iraq working with refugees in the area with partners such as UNHCR, Christian Aid and Oxfam — thinks that it is fundamental that the relationships between local and international organizations become sustainable and reciprocal. Read More. 



Last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the World Food Program announced a landmark agreement that centers on smallholder farmers, a group that represents half of the 80 million people the agency serves each year.

In partnership with stakeholders from public and private sectors, the WFP’s Patience Procurement Platform aims to connect 1.5 million smallholders to commercial markets and supply chains, rendering them more independent.

How does the platform work? To find out more, Devex met with Mahadevan Ramachandran, deputy director of procurement within the WFP supply chain division, who is overseeing the platform’s development. Read More



Mission Innovation, announced by U.S. President Barack Obama at the Paris climate change conference, put innovation firmly in the spotlight. Finding innovative ways to tackle climate change, however, is not news for the three Rome-based United Nations agencies.

More than 2.3 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. And this makes them extremely reliant on environmental conditions, and therefore vulnerable to climate change. Stepping up efforts in the food security, nutrition and agricultural sector has thus become imperative.

Figures from the World Food Program reflect the extent of the problem. In the past 10 years, WFP has worked in more than 20 countries with five emergency or recovery operations addressing climate disasters, according to Richard Choularton, chief of WFP’s Climate and Disaster Risk Reduction Programs Unit.

Devex sat down with three climate experts from the Rome-based agencies and learned three key ways they are using climate finance innovatively. Read More



In an emergency, the primary response to a crisis is a humanitarian one.

This is by default a short-term response, when most of the problems are long-term, according to Luca Alinovi, senior emergency and rehabilitation coordinator at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

But with resilience going mainstream in recent years, the tables have turned and some forward-thinking global development professionals are proposing a wholly new approach to previously intractable problems.

An indication of how resilience has risen to prominence is its implicit and explicit inclusion in the Sustainable Development Goals. Indeed, target 1.5 is dedicated to building resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations, reducing their vulnerability to shocks and disasters.

The real proof of concept, however, only comes when theory turns into practice and resilience-based programs are applied in the field, where practitioners can get a sense of what is successful and what is not.

People-centric approach

Until recently, the general rhetoric behind emergency intervention has been that disasters only have a negative impact on the affected population. However, according to Alinovi, this is not always the case: “Yes, there are a lot of people suffering, but there are also people who are doing better, and we don’t look at those who do better to understand what we need to do, in turn, for this to continue.” Read More