Time for solidarity

Since 2015, Greece has faced an unprecedented wave of refugees and migrants, creating a conflict which goes beyond the problems of organization, racism or culture shock. One of the biggest problems for the refugee community is the integration. The task of integrating refugees into the cultural, working and social Greek dynamics is complex as it requires solidarity effort by both sides of the balance: the local society and the migrant-refugee society. Here is where NGOs and Coordination Centers come in.

Inside Eleonas Refugees Camp :: OSCE

Andreas is the coordinator of Project Elea, an NGO formed by a group of volunteers that work collaboratively with the residents of the Eleonas Refugee Camp. It is a volunteering program which everybody can join, but the important points are people in hardship cases and the refugees.

“Project Elea only covers a little part of the dramatic needs we find in Eleonas,” explains Andreas whipping up the sweat that falls from his forehead. Other large NGO’s, like European Expression, are in charge of the educational tasks, medical attention and housing. Project Elea is focused in food and clothing distribution, creative engagement, sports activities (10-12 per day), as well as working as a culture centre. These offer some activities for children, skill-sharing workshops, basic infrastructure improvements, storage management of clothing and food and recycling.

Project elea logo :: Projectelea.com

“Our vision is to help create an environment where stability and peace are very important. We try to empower the refugees’ pride to strengthen their sense as a community. This helps them to rebuild their lives and families,” some volunteers share. The main goal of Elea is to help the refugee community become as self-sustainable and autonomous as possible, but is a long term objective because, nowadays, Greece is recovering from a long economical crisis. The unemployment data, provided by the Greek Governemnt, are encouraging, but is a “long road.”

These volunteers are trying to improve the living standards of the community, offering support in feeding tasks, clothing distribution, entertainment and ruling Eleonas camp, which is self organized between volunteers and residents. Elea’s office is located inside the camp, in a a barracks where they have reunions and meetings. All the decisions are made by the assembly, where every volunteer can contribute with ideas. In this assembly we can find people from across Europe including Germans, Spaniards, Greeks, Serbians, Italians and more. Elea has become an international point of reference for those who want to create a network of cooperation and solidarity, prefixing the refugee community to their own lives.

Andreas and the rest work without anything scheduled. There are no shifts, spending their free time in helping tasks, staying in Eleonas, sometimes, since sunrise until sunset. “Here, the main point are them [refugees], not us. This is dramatic,” shares one of the volunteers while helping a little girl to draw in a notebook.

Project Khora is a NGO based in Athens formed by experienced volunteers who have been working together and for other organizations around  the world. Now, all these volunteers have joined to create a humanitarian cooperative foundation as a response for the refugees crisis. Khora is focused on providing services for refugees. These services are located in the areas of mental health, support work, building and teaching. This NGO has been working since 2015, when a group of friends and volunteers founded Project Khora in Lesvos (Greece), in one of the RICs (Reception and Identification Center) of the country. What makes Khora different from the other organizations is its volunteers. A lot of them come from Europe, from countries like Portugal, Germany or Belgium but, also, Khora is an example of integration because some of their volunteers were refugees in the past. These volunteers come from countries like Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan or Cameroon and present Khora as a chance, first to work and rebuild their lives, but also to give back all the support received.

This example of integration is working in Greece, because some of the refugees affairs need the total understanding from the NGOs or offices. This is the case of Asef Farjam and Marina Tomara.

Maizonos street :: Àlex Llorca

Asef and Marina work in ACCMR, the Athens Coordination Center for Migrant and Refugee issues. The office is located in the number 45 of Maizonos Street in Athens, sharing space with other organizations as UNESCO. The office is a coordination hub for the official institutions (United Nations, Athens municipality, Greek government, European Union) and the refugee community. The ACCMR does not get in touch directly with the refugees, but is the contact between NGOs and institutions. The centre works in five different committees, as Marina Tomara explains.

“We are more oriented to the legal assistance. That is why we work in five committees: housing, employment, health, education and legal support. But we also work in the areas of Integration and, one of the most important areas nowadays, prevention,” she says. ACCMR develops strategies to prevent new refugees crisis or problems. Tamara explains that during the humanitarian crisis in 2015, the Greek government was inexperienced, because the wave of people coming was unprecedented. In 2016, the office started developing strategies to prevent any kind of refugee issue that could provoke problems. The centre works under the Vice-Mayor’s Office for Migrants and Refugees of Athens, but is subsidized by public and private foundations, therefore organizations as OS Found (public) or Stavros Niarchos Foundation (private) are involved.

Asef Farjam works for the centre but also has a separate project for the European Union, working as an advisor for the integration policies. Tamara admits that Farjam is very important for the centre because he helps them integrate communities better, because he is constantly in contact with the refugee community. The centre is also in constant communication with the communities and the institutions because the idea is to “bring communities closer,” involving both sides to create a more positive relationship.

“Integration is one of the hardest things,” Tamara and Farjam admit. Until the ACCMR appeared there were no mechanisms for this. After 2016, Greece transforms itself in a hosting country, but until that, Greece was just one more transit country.

“There were a few incidents, we are very worried about that,” Farjam tells us. Since 2017, when the coordination centre starts officially its path, there have been more than 3000 refugees injured and more than 10 direct attacks to this community, the centre has recorded. “There is a hostile environment, a fear. We are fighting against that. If they do not feel safe, they will not integrate into the society, is simple”, Farjam says. The big issue with integration is mostly education, health and housing problems. Ror example, there is a big problem with the refugee teenagers. In Greece, education is mandatory until you are 15 years old, but you are not allowed to work until you turn 18. A lot of teenagers from the refugee community are not going to school because they do not want to, but they need money legally or, in the majority of cases, illegally. “They do drugs, prostitution, whatever to get money. It is a really difficult problem to deal with,” Tomara admits.

Even for the Athens Coordination Center for Migrant and Refugee issues, an official institution which is in touch with data from bigger organizations like United Nations or European Union, the exact number of refugees is not clear.

“There are people outside who are unidentified,. We cannot help them,” they complain. Nowadays, the number of refugees registered in Greece is between 30 and 60 thousand. Farjam and Tomara wishes that organizations like the ACCMR, Elea and Khora wake up Greek society to start helping. As the Athens Coordination Center says, “it is time to create more stable projects. It is time for solidarity.”