More than 150 people, including politicians, journalists, civil society representatives and workers in NGOs and organisations supporting individuals with migrant and refugee backgrounds, participated in KMOP’s open informative event on the theme “Inclusion and Protection of Persons with a Migrant Background: The Contribution of Civil Society Organisations” held on Tuesday, November 28, 2023, at the Seraphio City of Athens. Participants engaged in a lively discussion, which offered the opportunity for persons with a migrant background among the audience to express their views and share their personal experiences.
At the same time, 14 Civil Society Organisations had the opportunity to interact with the audience and present their actions that enhance the protection and inclusion of migrants and refugees in Greek society.
In his opening speech, Heracles Moskoff, Secretary General for Vulnerable Persons & Institutional Protection of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum, stressed that “the obvious thing is often the most challenging”. He praised the crucial contribution of civil society organisations in supporting persons with a migrant background, while addressing the insufficient understanding of their role by the broader public. He openly invited everyone, especially frontline professionals, to increase their collaboration and intensify their actions for raising awareness and protecting vulnerable people, boosting their participation in society. Reference was also made to the National Emergency Response Mechanism for the protection of unaccompanied minors (NERM), as well as to the incentives offered to children to stay in school in exchange for residence permits.
In an interactive panel discussion, representatives from organisations such as the Network for the Children’s Rights, ARSIS – Association for the Social Support of Youth, Elix, and The Home Project explored the challenges faced in Greece by children with a migrant background. Efi Mansali, Programme Manager for the Protection for All Minors at the Network for Children’s Rights, referred to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Migration and Asylum estimating that 1,834 unaccompanied minors are housed in emergency accommodation facilities in Greece.
Inclusion of children with a migrant background in the school environment
“Children who do not speak the language and come from different cultural backgrounds feel alienated in Greek schools, and this prevents them from socialising in the school environment,” underlined Eva Kontodima, European Projects Manager at ARSIS – Association for the Social Support of Youth. On the same point, Angeliki Sifaki, Programmes Coordinator at Elix, added, “Many migrant children drop out of school precisely because they do not understand the language and cannot participate in class.”
“In an aging country, refugees may be the solution to our society’s problems,” noted Fotis Parthenidis, Head of the Child Protection Unit at The HOME Project. “It is essential for children to acknowledge the benefits they will gain from education and participation because it gives them the opportunity to acquire useful skills that will help them become independent, find jobs, and continue their path in this country as equal members.” He also mentioned 80 successful cases of children who received scholarships to study technical professions and later managed to enter the labour market.
The significance of inclusion
The complex phenomenon of migration and how inclusion can sustainably be exploited for the benefit of all was highlighted by Yiannis Pappas, Head of Programmes at KMOP. He called on event participants to create partnerships, network, and collaborate to augment the effectiveness of Civil Society actions. He also presented the work of KMOP, an organisation that aims to support vulnerable groups and promote individual and social well-being through social services, educational programmes, studies, and awareness-raising actions.
During the section themed “Inclusion in Practice“, various actions related to education, employment, participation in public life, sports, culture, and art were highlighted, outlining how these can promote social cohesion.
Marina Tomara, Communication Manager of the Athens Coordination Center for Migrant and Refugee issues (ACCMR), analysed the Municipality’s actions and services for a more inclusive city. ACCMR is the hub where Municipality departments meet with civil society organisations and institutional bodies, exchanging experiences, information, good practices, and developing partnerships for the benefit of social inclusion and cohesion.
The “challenge” of integrating into the labour market
The difficulties faced by individuals with a migrant background, as well as the advisory services offered by the Stepping Stone programme for connecting people with a migrant background to Greek society and the job market were presented by Evi Papaioannou, Head of Employment Counseling at METAdrasi. On her part, Lila Mastora, Institutional Fundraiser and Project Manager at ActionAid Hellas, presented the European project Momentum of Cooperation, aiming to integrate women from third countries into education and the labour market with a focus on a social and solidarity economy.
Hassan Hmeidan, Co-Founder of the Zaatar Organization and Coordinator of the Social Restaurant “Tastes of Damascus,” shared his own experience that inspired him to assist migrants in their efforts to enter the local job market.
Sports and culture aiding inclusion
“Sports can provide tools and skills for a better life, regardless of social background,” Evina Maltsi, Head Coach at AntetoKounBros Academy underlined. She outlined the vision of the Antetokounmpo brothers to provide children coming from low-income families with the opportunities they lacked when growing up: “We are more than just a basketball academy. We teach children acceptance, respect, collaboration, trust, teamwork, while simultaneously enhancing their self-confidence and self-esteem.”
Sevi Matsakidou, Educational Music Programme Manager at El Sistema Greece spoke about the power of music in the social inclusion of children with a migrant background. El Sistema Greece has been offering free music lessons to children and youth aged 5-26 in Greece since 2016, regardless of whether they are Greeks, refugees, or immigrants. It aims to create a musical community composed of children from different backgrounds, equipping them with communication and collaboration skills. In a similar context, Fridoon Joinda, Founder & Director of Joinda Production-Refugee Rights Advocate, Refugee Week Greece, discussed how art and culture can enhance social inclusion.
KMOP’s actions for inclusive societies
“KMOP’s initiatives aim to create inclusive societies with greater empathy, where everyone, regardless of their origin, can influence and determine their future,” said Ariadni Matraka, Civil Society and Democracy Unit Coordinator at KMOP. She presented the projects PEARL and Migrant Voices Heard for the inclusion of migrants in political and democratic processes in Greece, as well as the STAGE project to facilitate their access to public services.
“Education is the only path to empowerment and it is a theme that permeates most projects,” added Chryssa Sotiriou, Project Manager at KMOP. She presented the projects Refuge-Ed, which arranged interactive reading sessions for refugee children to facilitate their inclusion in the school environment, IN&IN Education, supporting parents with a migrant background to better comprehend the Greek educational system, and WINGS, facilitating the socio-economic integration of women from third countries in vulnerable situations through employment opportunities.
Giving a voice to individuals with a migrant background
“Our goal is to give a voice to the patients of Doctors Without Borders and other individuals from marginalised and underrepresented communities and to bring about positive change,” noted Christianna Mourouzi, Humanitarian Affairs Officer at the organisation, presenting the Experts By Experience programme. In the same context, Antilian Kotzai, President of the “Horizons” Network of Young People with Migrant Origin, spoke about the necessity of political participation for enhancing integration.
The event was moderated by journalist Dimitris Angelidis (Efimerida ton Syntakton newspaper).
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