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Current Situation of our Clients in Athens (March 2023)

SAO Beneficiary / Foto: Helena Schätzle

Report from field visit and retreat with Field Director Tereza Lyssiotis, AMINA team and Anna Pavlidi, Programme Manager Bashira Lesvos.

As you know, the women registered in our two day centres come from a wide variety of countries: Afghanistan, Guinea, Iran, Yemen, Cameroon, Congo, Morocco, Somalia and Syria. For this reason, we employ translators from the communities and offer our services in Arabic, Farsi/Dari and French.

Most of our Amina clients are recognised refugees, a status that in theory provides a basis for arrival, livelihood and inclusion in society. In practice, however, inclusion is only possible if refugees have unhindered access to important state services. This access is currently impeded or even prevented in Greece, making interaction with the local population almost impossible.

Basically, both asylum seekers and recognised refugees are being displaced again. Asylum seekers are detained on the islands under increasingly restrictive conditions in partly closed camps. On the mainland, recognised refugees are forced into camps far from urban centres such as Athens with job opportunities, schools, medical care and support services provided by NGOs.

Immediately after receiving a positive asylum decision, recognised refugees are effectively put on the street:

  • ESTIA, (see also blog dated 27.10.2022) a support programme for particularly vulnerable refugees, was first drastically cut by the Greek government and finally discontinued altogether at the end of 2022 - this despite the fact that the EU Commission had definitely promised Greece continued funding.

People who were housed in flats had to relocate to distant camps or resort to accommodation solutions that experts describe as "precarious", especially for single women and mothers.

  • HELIOS, the state programme to promote integration, is known for almost insurmountable bureaucratic and financial hurdles. On the positive side, the condition attached to the programme is that Greek courses be taken. Recognised refugees are paid rent for a minimum of six and a maximum of twelve months. The women have to find accommodation themselves and also pay the deposit and the first rent.

Currently, our staff is receiving more and more feedback from clients that the HELIOS support money has been outstanding for months and that they are threatened with eviction and, as a consequence, homelessness again. The question about the future of HELIOS, a defective accommodation programme for recognised refugees, currently remains unanswered.

Our clients, who, among other things, are exposed to gender-based violence, domestic violence and resource scarcity, now increasingly have limited options for housing, socialisation, and education. In this context, complementary services from support organisations are vital for their survival. SAO Association is among very few of the smaller aid organisations that work with local professionals. Our psychologists, social workers and sociologists are very familiar with the context, bureaucratic processes, services offered by partner organisations, etc., which allows us to offer diligent case management and therefore support the women effectively.

Our clients currently have access to the following services:

  • Emergency humanitarian aid (supermarket vouchers, feminine hygiene and shower service, barrier-free toilets, and shower, washing machines, distribution of clothes and non-food items).

  • Psychosocial support (case management and social support, individual and group sessions, access to partner organisations' shelters, monitoring of relationships between clients and their employers)

  • Access, appointments, and accompaniment to public services (asylum services, resident services, health care, housing and cash assistance programmes, protection and legal counselling, school enrolment)

  • Information centre (cultural mediation, residents' rights and responsibilities, women's rights, reproductive health, service mapping of services in Athens)

  • Skills acquisition: informal Greek language classes (group and individual) including access to public language programmes; one-to-one computer skills classes.

It is worth mentioning that for the past years we constantly had to adapt our services to new circumstances - we now, for example, also offer transport support in Athens, so that women who have had to relocate to camps outside the city can still access the Amina Centre.

We from the SAO office in Switzerland are deeply impressed by the care, the solidarity and the iron will of our collaborators to accompany the clients professionally, come what may. Furthermore, we were once again able to see for ourselves that cultural boundaries are surmountable when recognition of human diversity is exemplified - women of the most diverse origins live a peaceful coexistence in our centres.


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