08. September 2017 · Kommentare deaktiviert für Europe has failed to integrate its refugees – but one tiny Greek island succeeded · Kategorien: Griechenland · Tags:

The Guardian | 07.09.2017

Recent migration waves have left refugees and asylum seekers struggling to survive. On Tilos, 50 refugees have been not only integrated but enabled

David Patrikarakos

‘Sorry, please one cigarette, my friend.” The man is young: early 20s at the most, Syrian I think. He and many others from across the Middle East and Africa patrol Exarchia Square in central Athens. Bereft of work, they beg for change. Often they turn to selling pirated DVDs, tissues or, occasionally, drugs.

The great migration wave of 2015 saw around a million people make asylum requests in the 28 EU states. The UN high commissioner for refugees was clear on the severity of the situation: since the second world war, he said, there have never been so many refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people. And still they are coming. According to the European commission, the number of people seeking asylum from non-EU countries in the EU28 during the first quarter of 2017 reached 164,500.

Greece is a major point of entry into Europe for those from the Middle East. In desperation they come – often in makeshift boats – from Turkey, enriching people smugglers in the process. Refugees have left their imprint on Greece’s national consciousness and on the fabric of its islands and cities. On Lesbos, I saw people sitting huddled in groups at the port. I glimpsed the barbed-wire camps that housed them. In Athens, they wander through the crowds, anonymous but ubiquitous. As the sun sets they bed down for the night: in shop doorways and on benches, in tents in public parks, and sometimes, if they are lucky, in filthy, empty buildings.

Greece is on the frontline of the refugee crisis, but its problems are replicated across Europe. Migrants rarely want to stay here. Instead, they make their way through the continent. True, German chancellor Angela Merkel has allowed a million refugees in, but her move has angered sections of society and galvanised the far right. We cannot escape refugees. But worse, they cannot escape us. The numbers entering Europe may have dropped since the peak of 2015, but a new question has arisen. They are here now, so what do we do with them?

The answer may lie on the tiny Greek island of Tilos, close to Turkey. Tilos has a population of only about 500, but it is now hosting over 50 refugees, 100 over the course of this year so far – 20% of the population. And, thanks to a few simple initiatives, the refugees have not only been integrated but enabled. They are making a positive social and financial contribution to the island.

At the heart of these efforts is a Greek NGO called SolidarityNow, funded by the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations organisation. Fay Koutzoukou is the group’s accommodation programme coordinator. Responsible for housing refugees across Greece, she is heavily involved with Tilos. “Unlike Lesbos and other islands,” she explains, “we got locals on side from the beginning. In places like Lesbos the numbers [of refugees] were huge, but no attempt was made to integrate them – they were stuck in camps. This is not a good model.”

Instead SolidarityNow works with a three-stage, more inclusive, framework. The first stage is to get the local population to accept the refugees. The second is to organise Greek classes to provide the requisite language skills; and the third, and most crucial is to get refugees working. NGOs cannot support migrants indefinitely. More than this, it is only through employment that they can contribute to their host society.

On Tilos, Koutzoukou continues, they found the perfect opportunity. “During summer the island gets tourists so hotels and shops need extra people. We contacted local businesses and said ‘Why hire someone from Athens when you have people here on the island for whom you won’t need to pay travel or accommodation costs?’ It made total commercial sense for them. It wasn’t charity. It was a win-win situation.”

Beyond mere employment lies the final jigsaw piece: entrepreneurship. Tilos may only have a few hundred people, but it has thousands of goats. Thus far they are only milked for personal consumption. Plans are in place for refugees to partner with locals to set up a cheese factory and export local produce internationally.

Tilos can teach us several things: above all, that integration, even on a large scale relative to population, is possible; and that refugees can be a boon not a burden. The key is inclusion. More money needs to be given to similar programmes, not to funding large camps that do nothing but mire their occupants in a squalid limbo. For integration to adequately happen, NGOs and the private sector must take the lead: government alone – overly bureaucratic, risk-averse, fickle and unwieldy – is not up to the task.

As it stands the UK and European governments are catastrophically failing to deal with refugees, with many saying it’s simply not possible. This tiny Greek island shows us that it is. We must learn from Tilos’s example.

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