Greeks con­nect with refugees in search of ac­com­mo­da­tion with help from NGO

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY THEODORA VASSILOPOULOU

On the sec­ond floor of an apart­ment block in a quiet part of Ha­lan­dri, a sub­urb of north­ern Athens, Adel and Chara are ready to welcome new mem­bers into their fam­ily – as they like to put it. They had been mulling the idea of pro­vid­ing tem­po­rary hous­ing to refugees in Greece for a while, but the miss­ing link was that of ac­tu­ally es­tab­lish­ing con­tact with their fu­ture house­mates. The mat­ter was solved on the In­ter­net, through the dis­cov­ery of Refugees Welcome, a newly es­tab­lished non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion that went into op­er­a­tion for the first time in Ger­many in Novem­ber in 2014. Refugees Welcome of­fi­cially started op­er­at­ing in Greece a few days ago (www.refugees-welcome.gr).

“We would like to host a fam­ily. I’m preg­nant and I have been think­ing about what kind of life we’d have if we were forced to leave our coun­try with our baby in our arms, how cru­cial it would be for some­one to host us,” Chara Vas­sil­i­adou said to Kathimerini.

Vas­sil­i­adou and her hus­band, Adel Sanoussi, con­tacted the NGO a few weeks ago. Among the pre­req­ui­sites they laid down was a max­i­mum stay of three months. Equally im­por­tant for the cou­ple was that their guests un­dergo all the nec­es­sary med­i­cal tests and that they do not hold ex­treme re­li­gious views.

“It would be eas­ier to host some­one com­ing from Syria or Iraq be­cause I speak the lan­guage, but we can use English, if they also speak the lan­guage,” said Adel, a Greek Libyan. “Hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced war my­self, I know that it is im­por­tant to calm down from all the im­ages you bring with you and see that the world is not such an ugly place af­ter all. Hu­man­ity is the num­ber one fac­tor in this case.”

“If a fam­ily wants to take part in the pro­gram, they have to fill in the ap­pli­ca­tion form, which is avail­able on our web­site. The form in­cludes ba­sic ques­tions re­gard­ing the type of fam­ily and ac­com­mo­da­tion, how many peo­ple live there, its lo­ca­tion, what lan­guages they speak and so on. Another ap­pli­ca­tion form is avail­able for refugees seek­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion,” said Christina Psarra, founder of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s Greek branch. Ac­cord­ing to Psarra, the ap­pli­ca­tion is the first step to­ward an en­counter be­tween the two sides, while the or- ga­ni­za­tion may process re­quests from other or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s char­ter, there are no re­stric­tions when it comes to the pro­files of can­di­dates wish­ing to share their liv­ing space.

“Fam­i­lies, cou­ples, peo­ple liv­ing on their own or house-shar­ing with friends, stu­dents shar­ing an apart­ment – ev­ery­one is suit­able. The only rule, how­ever, is the ex­is­tence of an au­ton­o­mous room, while the min­i­mum amount of time for the co­hab­i­ta­tion is one month,” noted Psarra.

Prepa­ra­tion work lasts for two to four weeks be­fore Refugees Welcome mem­bers take over and ar­range a meet­ing. In any case, refugees can al­ways reach out to one of the NGO’s vol­un­teers re­gard­ing ques­tions and is­sues that might arise.

“The or­ga­ni­za­tion com­prises a team of 29, out of whom six form the NGO’s main body, while 23 are vol­un­teers. We re­ceive ap­pli­ca­tions for vol­un­teer work from var­i­ous places around the coun­try, as well as Greeks liv­ing abroad. They are peo­ple of all age groups, in­clud­ing a school pupil,” said Psarra.

Those will­ing to share their homes are also scat­tered around Greece – be­sides Athens, ap­pli­ca­tions are com­ing in from Le­fkada, Aegina and Vo­los, among other ar­eas. This is hardly sur­pris­ing, says Psarra, con­sid­er­ing the suc­cess of the or­ga­ni­za­tion in coun­tries such as Ger­many and Aus­tria, where many refugees from coun­tries in­clud­ing Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have al­ready been of­fered ac­com­mo­da­tion through the NGO. Refugees Welcome cur­rently op­er­ates in Aus­tria, Por­tu­gal, Spain, Poland, Switzer­land and Bel­gium.

Ac­cord­ing to Chara and Adel, so­cial media net­works such as Face­book and Twit­ter have been in­stru­men­tal in spread­ing the word.

“Whether it’s about Je suis Char­lie or the Arab Spring, peo­ple nowa­days feel part of a global fam­ily. So­ci­eties are the ones chang­ing the world and that’s the whole point. If we were to come up with another 100,000 fam­i­lies will­ing to do what we’re do­ing, the prob­lem would be solved,” the cou­ple said.

The Refugees Welcome team will hold a meet­ing with the public at the City of Athens Syn Athina shel­ter on Fri­day, Oc­to­ber 9.

Christina Psarra, founder of the Greek branch. There are no re­stric­tions when it comes to the pro­files of can­di­dates wish­ing to share their liv­ing space.

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