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People MCH LSE Refuge City ATH Refugee Info 003

Get to know the newcomers, activists and volunteers we met in Athens, Berlin and London, as they share their personal experiences of refuge, welcome and the digital city.


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Yiannis, Estia Prosfygon / ARSIS
Kallithea, Athens, November 2018

Last week, we had our 100th family stay with us since we opened seven years ago. It might not seem like a big number, but it’s not a small one for an accommodation centre with only 12 rooms.

Estia Prosfygon was established in 2011 to host asylum seekers, particularly single-parent families and mothers with babies, and it became a model for the Ministry as they opened other hostels during the crisis. We treat our residents as people that have a past, present and future, rather than as victims. No matter how vulnerable a family is, we try to see them within a context and create an everyday life for them. They may need a whole month just to sit back and clear their head, especially if they come from camps or temporary detention centres.


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A family’s stay in our shelter is a single stop in a larger support process. They stay in the hostel for 6-12 months where they get a lot of support from us. Then they move to one of our social apartments, and after a few months, we start to encourage them to take another step towards self-sufficiency. We don’t always succeed — it depends on many factors and it’s difficult to talk about self-sufficiency when there is no employment. But we have some happy endings: the cleaner in our shelter stayed here in 2014 and now she’s our colleague. For me, success is when a former resident lets us know they got a job or they’ve settled in Sweden or Germany. I’m not saying it's a failure when this doesn’t happen. It depends on their lives, mobilities and the difficulties they might encounter.


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We regularly have local volunteers helping us out through the Scouts of Greece, and at the moment, we’re in a good place, but our shelter has been through some difficult phases. Our employees weren’t paid for six months in 2016, and when I started working here we couldn’t afford to pay for broken windows. We’re all working on four-month contracts; some have been doing this for 7 or 8 years. It’s a harrowing experience. How can I plan something that can take a year when my contract ends in 2 months? How can you provide services when you are not paid and you have a child at home? You live and work in constant uncertainty, which you need to turn into certainty so that you do your job properly.


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Social media helps us keep in touch with people that have moved on from the shelter. We use Viber video calls to chat, especially with those that have left Greece. We don’t post pictures of the children on Facebook and we don’t have a Whatsapp group due to the codes of conduct. As an employee, you also need to be protected. For instance, one of our residents might call me at 11 pm because something happened, because he is upset or because he is nervous about something. So, personal protection is important.

(digital lives)

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A huge problem is bureaucracy. There is no consistency when it comes to UNHCR requests and what they ask us to report each time. You have to frequently change some indicators and include new ones depending on the needs. Initially, the criterion was that you were a single-parent family. Since August 2018, the definition of vulnerability has changed and it’s now defined around health issues. When there are 5000 people waiting to be accommodated, being a single parent is no longer a strong criterion. There are currently 12 families staying here and they all suffer from psychological disorders and serious health issues. On Tuesday, we are expecting a family with a blind mother.

(hostility, Athens)

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