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 organization 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.