On April 5th, 2021, Dr. Apostolos Veizis, Executive Director of INTERSOS Hellas, joined SKAI 100.3’ s radio show “Zoi.gr” in order to speak with the journalist Christina Vidou on the occasion of the Panhellenic Refugee Day.

Today, more than ever, this special day has an even more topical character as the refugee issue calls for adequate management policies with genuine respect for the human dignity of refugees and asylum seekers.

Since 2016, INTERSOS Hellas has been active in Greece and has helped over 12,000 people with projects for refugees and asylum seekers. It is currently active in Epirus, Thessaly and Lesvos. Veizis referred to the serious challenges that have emerged in this field, saying characteristically:

«For once more, we honor the Panhellenic Refugee Day. And I think Greece is well aware of such a concept. But the most important is that Greece knows very well what solidarity means. The Greeks have always shown and continue to show their solidarity each and every day. INTERSOS Hellas is currently active in Lesvos where 8,000 people remain trapped.

In total, we have 13,594 people, children, women and men who are currently on the islands with unacceptable living conditions and restrictions under COVID. Their daily routine is quite difficult but I would like to highlight two other topics, and to give emphasis on a positive experience of INTERSOS Hellas regarding the integration process.

We have been intervening in the region of Thessaly and Epirus since 2016 where efforts to improve the living conditions of refugees have been made in cooperation with municipalities and the local community either under the ESTIA project implemented before by the UNHCR, or within the context of the HELIOS project which is currently implemented by the IOM.

The goal of these projects is as follows: People who are asylum seekers are given the opportunity to find accommodation and training in language learning but also to find work for them. The problem is that the ESTIA project is completed exactly one month after the person is recognized as a refugee, but this automatically means that after a month they have to leave the accommodation, the structure, and look for their daily life like every Greek citizen.

However, I must say that in fact they may have the same rights, but in practice they do not have the same ability either in the context of language learning or in the context of work regarding the way they are called upon to cope with the difficulties of the daily life that is difficult for all of us but a little more difficult for them.

The deadline for people staying in ESTIA structures or apartments is one month. So, after a month these people should normally go out on the street and find their daily routine. Taking into consideration the difficulty that already exists in this field, you saw them in Victoria Square or in other squares in search of work, accommodation, etc.

In order to help these people, the government along with the EU started the HELIOS project which gives recognized refugees the opportunity for a period of 6 months to a year, to cover the costs of renting so that they can find a job during that time to continue their daily activities. The point is that so far, these actions have been done without a plan that really includes the integration of specific people in society.

But, on the other hand, there are many positive examples to think of. We work with the municipalities of Ioannina, Karditsa, Trikala and the municipality of Larissa where the local authorities have stepped in trying to integrate people into societies, with minimal protests and problems. E.g. Anyone going out in Karditsa and asking about the existence of refugees and they get the answer: “who are the refugees?”.

Therefore, this is an effort that includes raising the awareness of the municipalities that take these initiatives, but at the same time there are projects that in fact do not function at the expense of the communities at the local level. Unfortunately, the few negative images that we have seen from time to time and are multiplied by the media, do not even come close to the reality.

So, it’s clearer than ever that the government should take on a different role because it cannot, on the one hand, say that these people will share a 1% of the Greek population in the area or that these people pose a threat to local communities etc. Their integration cannot be done like “I transfer some people from Lesvos and leave them anywhere I want in Larissa, Trikala, etc., and from this point forward it’ s up to you as a local community to do something with it”. In Karditsa during the period of May to October, about 2000 migrants come from various parts of Greece without the necessary documents in order to do agricultural work.

But if these people are properly guided to follow a process where all the necessary steps are taken to legalize their documents, for their safety and it is understood that they contribute to the well-being of local communities without being a burden to the national health system, will be proved really helpful to everyone. So, as a society we have to recognize the existence of these people. With the right planning, by recording the needs in different areas, something like this could become an example for the rest of the country».

You can listen to the whole discussion here: https://bit.ly/3wFeQAm

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