Exploring Challenges and Success in Refugee Integration
This week, the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR launches a new series of open discussion groups for refugees in Greece focusing on successes and challenges in the integration process.
“Integration is a key durable solution for refugees in Greece which is promoted by UNHCR and partners, in support to the Greek Government. The bureaucratic and technical challenges are many, which can be difficult and discouraging. However, refugees can and are managing to integrate in Greece. This is an opportunity for some of them to share their experience and inspire others” said Petros Mastakas, Associate Protection Officer with UNHCR Greece.
Refugee speakers who have achieved social, economic, linguistic and cultural integration in the country will be invited to speak to other refugees, in their native language, to discuss their stories and to inspire and support others. Focus areas will include accessing the labour market, accessing tertiary education, and acquiring Greek nationality, amongst others.
The first such session will be held on 15 December in Thessaloniki, with guest speaker Mokhtar Rezai from Afghanistan. Mokhtar arrived alone in Greece in 2001 as a 15-year-old and received his refugee status some nine years later. He has attended Greek school and was the first Afghan national who sat and succeeded in the nationwide university entrance exams. Since then, he has become President of the Afghan community in Greece, the Vice-President of the Greek Refugee Forum, and the father of three daughters. He also writes about his experience as a refugee with a view to inform, inspire and bring change.
“The road towards integration is not easy, it requires significant effort, persistence and resolve. On my way, I faced many obstacles, but I was determined to overcome them, to focus on the solution” he said. “Through these discussions, I hope to share my experience, actually a part of myself, with other refugees. And I want to pass on the message that integration needs the society’s support to be successful; but also, a successful society needs to invest in integration” he added.
The second session will be held the following day, 16 December, in Ioannina, with guest speaker Julien Makalu, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo who arrived in Greece in 2001 alone, also at just 15 years of age. Convinced of the importance of education and determined to succeed, he attended the University of West Attica where he excelled in his Integrated Master Studies in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering receiving numerous academic awards. He has worked in different positions in Greece and has established his own international agency providing commercial services.
“Education is the key which can change our world” he said. “It’s important to share my experience with others and to emphasize the value of education for society and for the whole world. Access to education, especially for the youth of today, is so important for the future and for integration” he added.
While progress has been made for the integration of refugees, significant challenges remain, including bureaucratic hurdles, language barriers, amongst others.
The Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum and UNHCR have recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which will support efforts for the local integration of refugees and asylum-seekers in Greece.
These discussion groups will continue throughout 2022 addressing different challenges and shining a light on those who have succeeded.