The Re-thinking Migration training in Greece took place from the 23rd – 30th October 2019. In this post Paakhi Bhatnagar reflects on her experience and her impressions of the course. If you want to know more about the Re-thinking Migration project, please see here.

Greece is one of the most topical and relevant places to discuss when thinking about migration, especially within the European context. In the past decade, there has been an influx of migrants coming in from Middle Eastern and African countries to Greece with the hopes of finding a stable and secure home somewhere in Northern Europe. For many of these people, Greece is just a transitory point. Owing to its geographical location, close to Turkey and Asia, asylum seekers come into the islands of Greece hoping to be sent to the mainland from where they can build a new home in one of the Nordic countries.

However, lately the issue of migration has been securitised in political rhetoric, with conservative governments all across Europe, and especially in Greece, making it harder for asylum seekers to get a refugee status. Just like most socio-political phenomenon, this issue around migration impacts women and unaccompanied minors disproportionately. It was this topic, “Women and unaccompanied minors,” that was the subject matter of the workshop that this article explores.  

In the one-week long workshop held by Inter Alia, a non-governmental organisation in Greece, with the help of Kairos Europe, we discussed more in depth the various factors affecting the migration situation in Greece. Our group consisted of ten participants coming from diverse backgrounds and having a similar interest in migration patterns across Europe. 

On the first day we had a brief introductory meeting with one of the co-founders of Inter Alia, the host organisation in Greece. It set up a solid prefatory basis for us to start our workshop and gave us a framework of what to expect in the week to come. During this time, we were also able to network with the rest of our team members.

Day 2: Understanding the Migration Issues of Southern EU Countries

On the second day we were provided with a premise on the migration discourse through the two talks that we had with Elina and Ruby, both of whom were working in non-profit organisations facilitating the rehabilitation and integration process for asylum seekers. We learnt about the AMKA and white card applications along with the different refugee camps that are operating both in the mainland and in the islands of Greece. This workshop gave us a good prefatory basis to start more research work into the issues surrounding migration. It gave special focus to the conditions of women and unaccompanied minors in refugee camps and their specific needs.

Day 3: Greek example – solutions by institutions and practitioners; visit to refugee centre

On our third day we learnt about various organisations operative within Athens that deal with rehabilitating refugees. On visiting one of the Municipality Clinics we found out that due to the transitioning government in Greece, pro bono doctors weren’t available to check up on refugees even when they had gotten their AMKA card. This made me realise the precarious position refugees are often put under during times of elections. If pro bono gynaecologists aren’t available for consultation, pregnant refugee women often have to rely on their migrant diaspora for support, but the lack of professional advice does put them at a position of risk.

We also visited the ACCMR office where we talked to a brilliant academic on the importance of rehabilitating refugees and integrating them within the Greek system. Through this we were able to learn about the unemployment crisis of migrants in Athens.

After this, we visited a Danish organisation called FAROS that deals with housing unaccompanied minors. It was very interesting to learn about their specific housing needs along with how educational facilities are set up in order to best integrate them within society.

Day 4: Recognising hate speech, and educational opportunities for migrants and refugees.

On our fourth day, we visited the Afghan Community Centre, one of the most active migrant community centres in Athens. This visit allowed us to directly get in touch with a migrant community active in Greece and it allowed us to see the human aspect of all the migration policies we had been studying so far.

We then had a workshop on Media Literacy at the Inter Alia office. This was very interesting as it helped us analyse the contemporary phenomenon of populism and hate speech and how that can be incorporated into media to promote right-wing policies against migration. 

Day 5: Sociological dimensions of integration; social exclusion; economic migrants and refugees; the “gateway” to Europe

On our fifth day in Athens, we tried to understand the space that migrants were occupying through photography. Xenia, a member of our team, led a photography workshop which helped us to take a step back and explore Exarchia in a way that we would otherwise not have. We looked at all the political graffiti on the walls, we saw the migrant families at Victoria Square, and we looked at remnants of political activism all over the city. It helped me understand the value of art and activism and how important that is for the discourse around migration, especially since it helps to escape language barriers.

We then watched a documentary produced by Inter Alia on the topic of refugees coming into Europe from African countries. It was informative as it allowed to us to see conversations taking place between different refugee communities in the same country and how these communities were being impacted by conservative migration policies.

Day 6: Support for refugees and migrants: skills, mental health, and homelessness; cultural diversity in Europe; promoting common European values.

On the penultimate day of the week-long workshop, we dealt with some sensitive topics like mental health issues and sexual and gender-based violence affecting women and unaccompanied migrants. During our visit to the NGO, Amurtel, we were able to learn about the pre and post-natal needs of pregnant women. We also learnt about how different migrant communities, like the Afghan community or the various African communities, handled mental health and pregnancy related issues. Overall, we got to understand the holistic needs of refugee women.

After this, we had a group activity at the Inter Alia hospital where we constructed a privilege star. Here, all the team members tried to understand the privileges they have and how that impact their trajectory through society. This helped us develop empathetic skills which allowed us to understand the lack of these privileges within the migrant and asylum-seeking community.

29/10 Day 7: Workshop; reflection and evaluation of the training

Our final day in Athens was very nostalgic as the team had developed a strong relationship. We visited three grassroots level organisation that allowed us to witness how local action can help rehabilitate refugees. Of the three organisations that we visited, Melissa and Amina, both of which are community centres for refugee women, we learnt about the various issues that impact this particular demographic of refugees. We learnt more about gender-based violence and the need for rehabilitating pregnant women and mothers of infants and toddlers. At Melissa, it was very empowering to see refugee women start up a community centre where women could come together and talk about the issues that they were facing, get advice on childcare and reproductive and mental health and also form strong friendships along the way.

One important sentence that the co-founder at Melissa said which really stuck with me is, “we don’t help others because we have more, we do it because we know what it feels like to not have anything.” This sentence really encapsulates the importance of grassroots level work and its subsequent positive impact on migration in Greece.  

Overall, the workshop in Greece proved to be very informative and helped us develop skills to better understand the complex patterns of migration in the area along with the different rehabilitation requirements for refugees and asylum seekers. Through this workshop, I was able to build friendships with the participants as well as discover organisations that were operative in the field of acclimatising refugee women and minors.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Kairos Europe, its partners or their employees.

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