Refugee-led Community Organizations in Greece: Bringing Communities to the decision table

The Greek Forum of Refugees

The Greek Forum of Refugees (GFR) is a Refugee-led Community Organization (RCO) that was founded back in 2012.

The GFR aspired to be the “Voice of Refugees” and became an umbrella organization for the Refugee & Migrant formal and non-formal Communities in Greece. Since its very beginnings, the GFR was engaged in advocacy for the rights and obligations of refugees in the host society, in empowering activities and workshops for its members, and as a focal point for one to obtain formal information on migration policies and their changes.

The period of time between 2015 and 2020 is a crucial one for Greece regarding the unprecedented influx of asylum seekers in the country and their treatment concerning hosting, rights enjoyment, and their integration/inclusion in society. As a result, the GFR after years of experience formed a Self-Advocacy Team (SAT) that would encourage skillful community members to step up and become advocates for their communities and contribute to our overall mission; the holistic inclusion of refugees and migrants in Greek society.

The “Training Kit for Empowering Refugee-led Community Organizations” Project

It is under this prism that the GFR is searching for projects relative to its mission. Projects that would empower its members, offer them new skills and an understanding of the political context of the host society. It is for this reason that the GFR participates as a partner to the Erasmus+ project titled “Training Kit for Empowering Refugee-Led Community Organisations”, which is led by the organization Aditus Foundation along with the Je Suis Refugees Service (Malta), the Dutch Refugee Council, the Cyprus Refugee Council, the European Council for Refugees & Exiles (ECRE), the Mosaico – Azioni rifugiati (Italy) and the Syrian Volunteers Netherlands as associated partners.

The main objective of this project is to contribute to a substantial improvement regarding the quality of human rights enjoyment by refugees connected to the aim of promoting the active inclusion of marginalized, vulnerable and excluded communities. The project focuses on the empowerment of these individuals or associations of refugee/migrant background that want to have an active role in their communities and strengthen refugee inclusion at a national and European level. Hence, this project aims to produce an educational package that will tackle the everyday challenges the communities face by identifying their needs, strengths and trends and, furthermore, provide the skills to overcome them.

In order to reach the project’s final objective, which is the actual toolkit for RCOs, the GFR engaged in discussions with asylum seekers, refugees, local authorities, academics, other NGOs as well as existing RCOs acquiring valuable information. Simultaneously, each associated partner, along with the GFR, developed a research that had as an outcome their country’s National context which highlights the migration issues each country faces. Armed with the National context of each country the partners are now working towards the creation of the Training Kit for empowering RCOs.

The Training Kit’s purpose is to address RCOs that are willing to actively participate at a national level, incorporating training content for the ones that aim to be active also at a European level. The Training Kit’s potential lies in the knowledge derived from the combination of the valuable information from community-based consultations being made along with the research each partner developed on their National contexts. This approach, further combined with the project’s transnational expertise and synergy will provide a thorough understanding of the necessities and strengths of the RCOs and the non-formal refugee communities and empower them by contributing in skill and knowledge in order for them to be effective advocates for their cause both at a national and European level.

Rights enjoyment obstacles and Community Inclusion in Greece

Greece has had a multitude of RCOs, official and unofficial Community Associations, operating in the country for several years now. Associations such as the GFR and the Greek Forum of Migrants and formal communities such as the Afghan M&R Community of Greece, the Ivorian Community of Greece, and the Congolese Community of Greece amongst others. The associations and communities often deal with poor or even total lack of information and face tremendous obstacles in their struggle for integration and inclusion. Obstacles such as:

  • Inadequate Asylum Procedures: Problematic in both quality and time management. Lack of interpretation for the more “unique” languages. Existence of fast-tracks that benefit a few nationalities, painstakingly slow procedure for the rest.
  • Access to citizenship: Poor to say the least. It takes more than a decade for a refugee or migrant to claim citizenship in Greece. Even second-generation individuals, born and raised in Greece, access citizenship usually well after they reach 18 years old.
  • Access to Education: Limited access for asylum seekers & refugees since several camps are far away from urban centers. In the major cities, the schools face vacancy issues to accommodate refugee children or even outright deny their entry claiming various reasons. Refugees and migrants usually rely on non-formal education provided by NGOs and volunteers.
  • Access to Employment: Refugees and migrants usually rely on “undeclared labour”, meaning they are forced to work unofficially without declaring income to the tax office, saving their employers from this procedure also. This is a reality for Greeks too. A very important obstacle is the language barrier, especially for refugees that consider Greece a transit country.
  • Accommodation: recognized refugees more than often face homelessness due to the non-sustainable solutions provided by the State in cooperation with NGOs & INGOs
  • Integration Programs: Huge gap in integration programs, largely unsustainable solutions such as the “HELIOS” program. Complex rules on who is eligible to attend the program, leaving large numbers of beneficiaries out.
  • Covid-19 outbreak: implications not only to health but also to further marginalization, job loss, and financial problems.

It is evident that there are problems in every aspect of refugee inclusion and because the country relies on temporary solutions so far, rather than concrete and sustainable ones, there is a need for further RCO and community engagement. This toolkit is unique in the sense that it will assist RCOs and the wider Migrant and refugee Communities to navigate through the system, provide a better understanding of policies and prepare their representatives to address official state platforms like for example the Greek Municipalities’ Migrant and Refugee Integration Councils (MRICs). Utterly, the toolkit will assist the RCOs to engage in a more prolific approach on advocacy, dissemination of formal information, and empowerment of their members.

Written by George Stefanopoulos Advocacy officer of the GFR & Coordinator of SAT


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