Integration During Lockdown: Refugees in Greece

Georgia Kaltsidou is IsraAID’s Integration Officer in the Sindos suburb of Thessaloniki, where our Community Center provides job training, psychosocial support, and educational opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers.

Refugee volunteers at the Sindos Community Center

We understood the hidden burden of the pandemic, the way the lockdown levied a much heavier toll than we could have imagined on the refugee community

On March 6, the first COVID-19 restrictions were imposed in Greece — including permits to move around, hygiene measures, social distancing, and, of course, a lockdown of most businesses. After only two months at home, on May 4, the Greek government began to lift restrictions. On the surface, the situation in Greece appears better than in many other countries.

Any Job Opportunity Available

It is not easy for anyone in Greece to find a job in the current economic climate, but it’s even more difficult for refugees

If you ask Mamadou about his dreams for the future, he will definitely tell you that he wants to stay in Greece and build a new life here. After six months of studying, he can communicate in Greek and is getting ready to take the Greek diploma examination. Mamadou lives in a hotel in the suburbs of Thessaloniki in a housing scheme funded by the UNHCR, where there is no public transportation, so he walks over an hour each day to attend the Sindos Community Center or the educational facility where he’s also studying Computer Science.

For four months, every landlord said no. None of them gave her a reason

For those who have already been recognized and granted refugee status, a process that can take years, their state-supported accommodations expire. Whether you’re placed in an apartment in Athens, a hotel in a village, or a tent in one of the island camps, you have one month after your approval to find a job, sign a rental contract, and make sure that you continue making ends meet.

“We are not interested in giving the apartment to you”

Zeinab is a single mother who has been in Greece for three years, having given birth to her baby in the Moriah Refugee Camp on Lesbos. She already speaks fluent English and she is learning Greek as well. Zeinab already has a job, she is one of my successful cases. Because her baby is too young for the public education system, she brings her along to work every day. Luckily her employer is okay with it. I’m so proud of Zeinab and her successes.

Invisible

One day, she went to work, but was told she could no longer work because her status had expired.

Adele has had a job for the last six months, and was waiting for her appointment with asylum services, to extend her temporary eligibility to continue working before she has full recognized refugee status. Her appointment was cancelled during the lockdown — but her job was considered essential work. One day, she went to work, but was told she could no longer work because her status had expired.

Severed Connections

Mustafa, 11, been consistently attending the local elementary school in Sindos for the last two years. But Mustafa’s family lives in an apartment that doesn’t have internet, which meant that he couldn’t participate in the E-Learning that the rest of his classmates did during the lockdown.

Stability is seemingly unachievable

These real-life examples show how the integration process can be traumatic. Stability is seemingly unachievable, amid the complexity of the situation and the unpredictability of the pandemic. Still, Mustafa, Zeinab, Mamadou, and Adele work hard to be flexible, to bolster their resilience, and to be problem solvers.

Georgia Kaltsidou is IsraAID Greece’s Integration Officer

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