Athens Olympic City and its commitment to supporting Refugees

Good Practices

Athens Olympic City and its commitment to supporting Refugees

People gathered on a hill overlooking Athens

Greece became known for responding to the refugee crisis of 2015 when more than 1 million persons either passed through to another destination or found refuge in Athens. Greece was already host to refugees and migrants that settled in the city in the last 40 years. Since 2015, Athens has increased its role in promoting a sense of non-discrimination and belonging in the local community to advance social cohesion through a series of projects and programmes.

Athens, a city of 640.000 residents, is the reference point for 3.500.000 residents of the larger metropolitan area. The city has long been a symbol of ancient Greek history and is popularly known as the “city (that) is the museum”.

Athens believes that diversity is achieved by being extroverted. Openness is at the basis of Agora, the public space where everyone can participate as citizens. In the Agora, you need to be open to the community, but you will also become open as a result of the experience of participating. This is everyone’s responsibility; to understand and establish Athens as a multaka, which means meeting point in Arabic, and it is the title of our intercultural project.

In the Multaka Athens project, designed and implemented jointly by the Ministry of Migration and Asylum, the Ministry of Culture and Sports and the City of Athens. Intercultural guides of migrant and refugee backgrounds give tours of archaeological sites and museums in different languages sharing aspects of their own culture and experience. In this way, intercultural guides and participants identify common references and values through an intercultural exchange.

People in the distance walking by an ancient monument

The City of Athens took the initiative to welcome diversity in the most concrete and meaningful way for our democracy: The City of Athens and its active citizens, with the support of UNHCR, assist Third Country Nationals[1] to have access to citizenship and thus to have the right to participate in decision making. The City of Athens offers preparatory courses for the Ministry of Interior’s naturalization certificate examination that include cultural activities to familiarise newcomers with the theory and practice of active citizenship. In this context, the City of Athens collaborates with volunteer teachers who give online courses on all subjects included in the examination (at least 40 hours). The courses include visits to historical places in Greece and a monthly workshop promoting active citizenship. More than 160 people have attended the courses, with 85% of students taking and passing the examination with very high scores. About 80% of students to date have been women.

The City of Athens has established the Athens Coordination Centre for Migrant and Refugee issues (ACCMR ) and the Cities Network for Integration (CNI) with the support of the UN agencies, UNHCR and IOM. ACCMR brings together more than 120 members, NGOs, international organisations and local and national public services in five working committees and has created a digital service mapping. In the Cities Network for Integration, 18 Municipalities across Greece work together to share good practices, identify challenges and design strategic response in integration-related issues.

While migrants and refugees have equal access to all public services in the City of Athens following the inclusive model, the City has acknowledged that Third Country Nationals were at risk of facing multiple discrimination. They might have difficulty navigating the social welfare system and the job market. Therefore, Athens havs established a point of reference to provide services to refugees and migrants, namely the Migrants Integration Centre, one of the most successful one-stop shops in the EU according to the Eurocities Network. The Migrants’ Integration Centre guides Third Country Nationals to become familiar with the public services system, learn the language, understand the local job market, and access entitlements and psychosocial and legal counselling services.

Computer class students at the migrants integration centre receiving certificates from their teacher

The Migrants’ Integration Centre’s services are complemented by smaller projects targeting citizens that experience a range of barriers. In this way, the city respects diversity and designs services tailored to women, refugees with disabilities and children of refugee or migrant origin. The ENFEM project is an AMIF project that empowers women Third Country Nationals to know their rights and obligations in the job market and even start-up businesses and become entrepreneurs. For refugees with disabilities, the Migrants’ Integration Centre has enhanced its capacity with additional staff through the Disabilities inclusive project, funded by UNHCR. It supports refugees to access disability allowances, receive assistive devices in cases needed and be linked to services that facilitate their daily life in Athens. More than 150 asylum seekers and refugees, 40 women and 34 children among them, have been supported since the project was started one year ago.

People participating in a naturalization course - a woman has a strawberry-form stress ball in her hand, resting on a table in front of a white board where someone is drawing a grid

To tackle discrimination, the first step is to hear all voices and hold ourselves accountable to the local community. In the Migrants and Refugees Integration Council, we sit around the table with community leaders of migrant and refugee communities. Curing the Limbo was the first pilot integration project in Greece that has received European funding through the Urban Innovative Actions project. Refugees actively participated in creative initiatives in the neighbourhoods of Athens, transforming together with Greek citizens the urban environment and daily life.

[1] Any person who is not a citizen of the European Union within the meaning of Art. 20(1) of TFEU and who is not a person enjoying the European Union right to free movement, as defined in Art. 2(5) of the Regulation (EU) 2016/399 (Schengen Borders Code).