#Step with refugees into employment and entrepreneurship

© UNHCR/ Katerina Stavroula

The Embassy of the Netherlands in cooperation with UNHCR and GCR organize Integration Event in Athens

As the number of refugees building a new life in Greece is growing, integration is both an opportunity and a challenge. Encouraging different stakeholders to #StepWithRefugees into employment and entrepreneurship, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in cooperation with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and GCR, the Greek Council for Refugees, organized on 19 September an event on integration in Athens.

With inspiring speeches, breakout sessions and speed dating, the event provided a platform for companies, policy makers, NGOs and refugees to exchange experiences and best practices from Greece and abroad.

Ms Stella Ronner-Grubačić, ambassador of the Embassy of the Netherlands, opened the event. She stressed the need to focus on the opportunities migration offers for our economies and our societies. “I am convinced that Greece can also benefit from the diverse backgrounds and experiences of refugees: diversity enhances innovation, which can help the Greek economy gain competitiveness.”

Mr Philippe Leclerc, UNHCR Representative in Greece, stressed the importance of collective efforts to promote integration. “What should be an important element in the refugee response is the implementation of integration measures, so that recognized refugees can become self-reliant and independent as soon as possible. I am certain that with key efforts by local and central authorities, the private sector and refugees themselves, social and labour integration can further be developed across Greece.”

Mr Markos Karavias, Director of the Asylum Service of the Hellenic Republic, welcomed the initiative that brought together and created a channel of communication between various actors with a goal to promote refugee integration.

Mr Lefteris Papagiannakis, the president of BoD of the Greek Council for Refugees set the scene for the multi-faceted issues of integration. Ms Nazha Rustom, People Development Consultant at ABN Amro Bank, shared the inspiring story that brought her here as a representative of ABN Amro, showing that sometimes, a fair chance is all you need. Mr Mahmoud Taala, Owner of Reem restaurant on Lesvos, described the challenges he faced but also the support he received from people in Greece when starting his own business. Ms Katerina Karniadaki, VP at Triton Act, touched upon the issues on behalf of the ownership of a company and their strategic decision to address integration actively. A touching moment was when Asma Alheder from Melissa Network of Migrant Women in Greece read one of her poems about her home country, Syria. After they set the scene, participants discussed different aspects of integration in three thematic breakout sessions about designing policies and public-private partnerships for refugee employment. They all resulted in lively conversations and new insights on integration of refugees.

The afternoon ended with speed date sessions between businesses like ABN AMRO, Unilever, Barilla, AB Vassilopoulos, Triton Act, Marinis Warehouses Co and 25 work-ready refugees. During those sessions, participants had the opportunity to get to know each other, assess needs and challenges and explore first steps needed towards filling actual vacancies.

The ambassador was pleased with the interaction between the many participants: “I cannot stress enough the need to involve all partners in giving refugees a chance on the job market. I am convinced that if we do it right, we can all benefit from it. I am glad that today we took a step in the right direction together.”