Supporting Refugees in Greece
Constantina Strikou, Program Officer for CCS Greece has been dedicated to addressing the needs of refugee communities since 2015. Starting on the coasts of Lesvos where refugees first enter Greece, Constantina now works at a camp on the mainland, Ritsona Refugee Camp. She is inspired by the resiliency of this population and has had the opportunity to analyze and understand the needs of this community through her work. We had the opportunity to sit with her and discuss the breadth of this crisis and how others can help make an impact.
Where are the refugees in Greece from?
The majority of refugees are from Syria. They account for 41% of all arrivals. 20% are from Iraq, 11% Afghani, and the rest are a small number of people from Congo, Palestine, Eriteria, Somali, Bangladesh, and other nations.
The main reason that refugees are fleeing their homes is because of the unsafe internal issues their countries are facing. Many are coming from dangerous situations, including having to face the Taliban and civil wars.
People also come because of economic difficulties in the hope of receiving better opportunities. They leave behind the homes and communities that they know and are put in an environment of uncertainty.
What journeys have the refugees completed to get here?
The majority of refugees arrived at the Greek islands by boats. They take small boats, sometimes filled over capacity, to complete these dangerous journeys. Many people must leave their belongings behind and are only left with the items that they have on their backs. They often face rough seas and unknown conditions. They often have little food and water as they complete their journey. A small percentage have also crossed land borders. Most people arrive in Turkey and pass over to Greece. When they first arrive in Greece, it takes anywhere between 3 months to 1 year to complete legal applications. They are first placed in camps on the island, where they often stay in tents with minimal resources. Once that is complete, they get placed in a mainland camp that has better conditions and more resources.
What is your experience working with refugees?
In Greece, we always receive refugees because of our location. I was always living among refugees for a long time, but working closely with them was a new experience for me. I worked in Lesvos for almost a year, I have seen this crisis from the very beginning. At that time, things were always moving very fast and we were constantly ready to address any need that came to us. I was a coordinator under the umbrella of protection focusing on two different sectors to support vulnerable women: psychosocial support and empowerment. Part of the project was providing information to people who just landed on the island and also transferring information to the medical and legal actors. When people first arrive, they are confused and unsure of what to expect. Any assistance that they get is greatly appreciated and necessary.
After that, I transitioned from the islands to Ritsona on the mainland. People are at Ritsona for a longer term and require different kinds of services. This camp is more of a preparation state for the refugees before they go back to living a normal life; it prepares them for the next step.
What inspires you, working with this population?
It is really impressive to see the situations that these people experience and what they’ve been through. The refugees are very resilient--they have power and hope to continue and move forward. It’s interesting to learn everyone’s perspective and hear their stories. The power of the people is incredible; they are always trying to find the positive. Going through this crisis, it’s not easy to find the positive, but even families that face difficulties during their journey are able to find a light of hope. The fact that they do have the power to move on gives me the positivity I need to move on. I’ve seen families in tragic times--it was challenging to find something to say to make them feel more comfortable, but they were grateful for any support.
Why do you think it’s important for others to see the refugee camps?
This crisis has been on the media for at least three years. Everyone knows what is happening. Although this is true, there is only a small percentage of the international community who truly understand what is actually going on. Coming here and helping gives volunteers the chance to work closely with the population and understand the culture and history of the people and make an impact on their daily life. It is completely different than just hearing about it or reading on the news. Seeing it through your own eyes brings the reality to this issue. Giving them a sense of dignity is so important and helps to make a difference in their lives.
How have our volunteers made an impact?
Our volunteers have helped residents maintain a sense of normality in their lives. At the Distribution Center, we do clothing distribution in the style of a normal boutique shop. Volunteers help with the daily operations of the shop and help residents choose clothing that will fit their needs. The opportunity to have clean clothes really resonates with the residents. It’s a universal need that is understood by everyone. They are always grateful to meet people from around the world and know that their plight is recognized.
What can others do to make a difference?
The main action that anyone can take is to get involved and spread awareness. Anyone has the ability to make a difference. With Cross-Cultural Solutions, you can join first-hand as a volunteer, and provide aid to the residents of the camp face-to-face.
If you can’t join us on-the-ground, you can always provide assistance from abroad. In order to manage and operate our center, CCS needs to raise $10,075 per month. This amount covers the cost of tea, milk, and hygiene resources to the families who have been forced out of their homes and now find themselves in this vulnerable position. Make a donation here: https://www.crossculturalsolutions.org/make-payment/support-refugees.
Whether you’re helping on the ground or fundraising abroad, any effort makes a world of difference for refugees in Greece. Your help will resonate strongly with a community that needs it the most. Show them that they aren’t alone in this.