Being there for Refugees in Greece, even when others left

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The decreasing number of refugees coming into Greece appears to be good news. However, this hides the many challenges faced by the over 60,000 refugees, of whom more than half are children, who are still in the country.

Many larger charities have been scaling back or pulling out of the region. The thousands of refugees still in camps face uncertainty as centres are closed and rumours continually circulate about more closures and resettlements to come.

Refugees who have been resettled in urban areas have other worries. They often find themselves more isolated, less able to access resources like medical care, and fearful that their meagre financial resources will run out. Many refugees are even more concerned about their futures and experience anxiety, depression, insomnia and hopelessness.

Your generosity has meant One to One Children’s Fund has been able to support the Refugee Trauma Initiative throughout 2017, providing much needed psychosocial services to the refugee communities in Thessaloniki, Northern Greece. Here is some of the fantastic work RTI has been able to achieve thanks to you:

  • Provided psychosocial support to 347 children, 74 women and 45 pre-natal mothers: womens group session editedAt four centres in Caritas, Epanomi, Tamam and Sindos, support groups provide safe spaces for refugees to share stories, reflect on the challenges they faced and to learn techniques to deal with feelings of loss and powerlessness. It helps refugees reconnect with the present.

One of the main tools used by these groups is art. Painting or sculpting in a non-threatening context encourages conversations and can be an incredibly effective healer. Those who feel a disconnect from their previous life and their loved ones or who are blocking out the trauma they have suffered, find a new sense of connection through the creative arts.

Here is an example of how the group sessions helped one of the women refugees:

“These sessions reduced my stress and fears, and by listening to other women’s experiences I felt less alone. I learnt many things, met new people and after each session, felt less overwhelmed.

Hearing about the problems faced by other women helped me see my problems in a different perspective which is empowering. I also learnt how to express my feelings and engage with my family in a positive way.” Nour, Refugee (name changed for confidentiality)

  • Provided early-childhood development lessons- helping parents to re-connect with their children and stabilising their development. Faced with trauma, depression and anxiety about the future, many parents find it difficult to connect with their children, which can impact a child’s emotional development and learning. Providing a space where children and adults can play together re-connects them and helped to bridge this gap.
  • Established a shelter for unaccompanied minors: Amidst growing concerns about minors and young adults being drawn into risky behaviours, Ethos, a Greek-registered organisation, has worked with RTI to establish a shelter in the city centre of Thessaloniki, providing housing and psychosocial support to 12-20 young men aged 17-18 years. 
  • Trained 139 volunteers and aid workers to cope with the high-stress of this type of work. Refugee environments can be incredibly stressful for staff, many of whom may struggle to cope or to deliver services sensitively. There have been 17 training workshops and debrief sessions for staff from over 15 organisations helping them process their own experiences. 

IMG_2412Looking Forward

Over the past month, we have conducted a wide-ranging needs assessment of refugee services in Greece and in the UK to identify where we can best use our expertise and skills in supporting refugees’ well-being and integration into their host communities.

We have identified a significant need for training counsellors within the refugee community and developing peer-support networks for young refugees to address the emotional struggles they face. One innovative way we are exploring is building confidence and nurturing talent through music and the performing arts. We will keep you informed as we move forward with these new initiatives.

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