Next-door neighbor Katerina comes over to the house almost every day to have a coffee in the garden and bring a “little something for the kids.” The Hospitality Center for Unaccompanied Minors in the Athenian neighborhood of Ano Petralona, which went into operation in late May, is currently home to 18 children aged 13-17, and is a hub of social activity.
The hostel for young migrants who crossed Greek borders without a guardian is run by the nongovernmental organization Praksis, which took on the responsibility of housing dozens of young refugees from countries including Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan who were being held at migrant detention centers such as Amygdaleza, north of Athens.
The detention centers were closed down by the then new government as one of its first orders of business, citing “inhuman” living conditions. However, one of the first issues then to rise was what was to happen to the minors. The government was short of cash, prompting Alternate Minister for Immigration Policy Tasia Christodoulopoulou to reach out to the Latsis Foundation for help.
“Surprisingly fast for a public organization,” says Latsis Foundation Executive Board secretary Dimitris Afendoulis, the ministry and the foundation created the hostel, which can take in 24 guests at a time, in a house in Ano Petralona within just a few months.
There are currently 99 minors still waiting to be placed in similar facilities, while authorities estimate that some 2,500 children make their way through Greece alone every year.
“This center may provide just a small amount of relief for the thousands of children waiting to find shelter in this country but on a symbolic level it is an amazing initiative, particularly as it happened thanks to funding from a private foundation,” says Christodoulopoulou. “We have a funding gap as far as European Union funds are concerned and such initiatives contribute to social solidarity and awareness.”
“Caring for and protecting unaccompanied minors brings together all those people who have the capability to contribute,” says Afendoulis, adding that the foundation has also undertaken to cover the hostel’s operating costs until EU funding becomes available.
All of the children in the hostel are waiting to travel to other countries in the European Union where they have family waiting for them. This is a process that can take anything from a few weeks to several months. In the meantime, the hostel is their home and they have the freedom to come and go as long as they state where they are going. If they do not return within 24 hours, the center notifies the police in a bid to ensure that the children do not fall victim to criminal gangs.
The center is a response to intolerance, to the “migrants go home” attitude, says Antypas Tzanetos, president of the Praksis board. “It is a response with actions, not words,” he adds.