We’ve been here for just over a week now and have enjoyed a holiday weekend, a service, and great welcome, at our host church St Pauls in Athens and more importantly started to understand some of the issues of the Greek refugee situation. We have the pleasure of volunteering alongside the Salvation Army who have a project in Athens. One of the aspects of their project is their day centre which aims to provide services to those refugees that are registered with them. Greece has in excess of 55,000 refugees (UNHCR Sept 2016 figure) from countries like Afghanistan, Syria, Morocco, Iran, Iraq and some others.
Many of the refugees have been in Greece for some time and whilst they may have hoped to travel out of Greece to other EU countries, the borders are now closed and it appears that most will be in Greece for the long term. Most of the refugees that we have encountered have made claims for asylum and having had their applications accepted, fall out of most of the help offered to refugees. It is deemed that when asylum is granted the individual has the right to work and therefore can be self sufficient and won’t need any further help. This might work if there were jobs, but since the Greek crash, about one in three Greeks are out of work, and looking for jobs. Consequently the competition for jobs for those with asylum is really tough, especially given that most lack Greek language skills and any local knowledge that may be a benefit for local people.
The camps are still being used for those with asylum status, and many families are living in tents or in containers, with other families, in very cramped conditions with little privacy and little access to sanitation. Many other families who have moved out from the camps are living in squats in many areas of the city, again it is assumed, in fairly poor conditions. Some have managed to get flats, but I am not clear on how this is paid for or arranged.
At the Salvation Army day centre, clients are interviewed to try and identify who they are and try and assess what their needs are. There are interpreters who are available who are key in making this work possible. When they have been registered by the Salvation Army, the clients are then able to receive milk, nappies, hygiene products, clothes and anything else that has been donated. The goods are given out on a Monday to Thursday and this can be very chaotic as registration is confirmed and goods are given out. It seems that the British are better at queuing than the average asylum seeker and sometimes scuffles break out which need to be quelled.
I’ve been involved in the interviewing of potential clients during which you hear some dreadfully sad stories including separated families, hunger, an inability to access other services, and sometimes despair. Alongside that, many are very grateful for even small items that we are able to give them, with the promise of more tomorrow. I am so impressed by how dignified the vast majority of the clients are in the face of such difficulty, having been through so much to even get this far.
Roger has been involved in both interviewing clients and in helping to organise the handing out of goods to clients.
At this early stage of our experience, we would value your thoughts and prayers for the situation, and for the people that we are meeting. There is much work to be done as the Salvation Army are trying to improve the service they offer to give a better individual case management service that is fit for purpose for the longer term. Please pray that Roger and I would continue to enjoy good relationships with those we’re working alongside,that we are able to be useful in this situation and that the clients we are engaged with feel valued and respected by us as a team.