Photos provided by Servin and Asma
When Servin and Asma arrived on Leros island in December 2018, they never imagined that three years later, they would be settled with a beautiful new daughter, a new life, and a community.
“When we arrived in Leros, it was not in our plans to stay here. But we came into contact with a family and they opened their home for us, they embraced us and we decided to stay here… We have built our life on this island” said Servin, a refugee from Iran who now works and lives happily on Leros island with his wife and daughter.
Servin and his wife Asma were forced to flee their home in Iran for reasons of religious persecution. Without alternative means of reaching safety, their only option was to cross from Turkey to Greece on a small boat. However, they were abandoned at sea and were lucky to make it to the shores of Leros alive.
They were received and registered in the Leros Reception and Identification Centre. After around eight months, Asma found a job working in the kitchen of a local restaurant. The brother of the owner then offered a job to her husband Servin, working at a local marina.
Being employed was so important for the couple as initially their asylum claims were rejected, and they were no longer entitled to receive support. They appealed the decision and eventually, in May 2021, they were granted refugee status. At almost the same time, they welcomed their baby girl into the world. She is now almost one year old and has only known life on Leros.
While Servin and Asma have been fortunate and received much support, the bureaucratic and technical challenges to integration for refugees in Greece are many, which can be difficult and at times discouraging. Supporting refugees to overcome these hurdles is a key priority for UNHCR.
UNHCR and the Ministry of Migration and Asylum signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Integration in October 2021. UNHCR will provide support to the Greek State’s integration strategy and is launching new pilot initiatives this year. A major focus will be on working with the Greek authorities to simplify administrative and legal provisions concerning integration.
For Servin, community support has been essential in easing their integration into life in Greece. “We have many friends here. Colleagues and neighbours. We gather together for dinner and drinks, they come to our house or we visit them at theirs. We have a small circle here” says Servin.
One of the people who have warmly embraced Servin and Asma is Matina Katsiveli, who has been helping refugees voluntarily for decades. Matina became the godmother of the couple’s little daughter last summer. “Servin and Asma are a lovely couple. The path to integration was not easy for them, but now they feel included, and a beautiful family has been added to our local community. Isn’t this a win-win situation?”, she says.
Integration requires a multi-dimensional approach spanning from Government, to municipality, to community level. The integration of refugees in Greece not only benefits them, but also benefits the local community and the economy of the host country.
Servin is adamant that learning to communicate is the key to integration. “All it takes is to be open to communicate. It doesn’t matter if you don’t speak the language or if you are a foreigner. If you want to, you will find a way to communicate” he stresses.
For many refugees, the lack of Greek language skills has negatively impacted access to further services to which they are entitled such as housing and employment. UNHCR and partners are supporting both asylum-seekers and recognized refugees to access Greek language classes with a view to easing the integration process.
Despite the many challenges and obstacles that many refugees face, for many, Greece has become their home.
“In the past three years, we have had good and bad days. We still have challenges to go through. At times we struggle, like many Greek families. But for the time being, we do not plan to move elsewhere… We have our people here who love us, and we love them too”, adds Servin.