Yahya, refugee from Yemen, works at the cleaning services of “Mitsis Blue Domes Resort & Spa" hotel on Kos island. © UNHCR/Socrates Baltagiannis
It’s 6:30 in the morning and Yahya arrives at the “Mitsis Blue Domes Resort & Spa” hotel on Kos. He puts on his white uniform to start his work. A year and a half ago, when Yahya first arrived in Greece in search of safety, he could never have imagined that he would find a new family at his workplace.
“Right from the start, everyone at the hotel treated me exceptionally well. They were warm and hospitable, and they showed great respect. They never made me feel like a stranger,” Yahya describes.
Yahya comes from Yemen but was born and raised in Saudi Arabia. He didn’t have an easy life there. He faced personal challenges at school, university and his work environment, which forced him to leave. Returning to Yemen was not a viable option, due to the persistent civil war.
He attempted twice to cross into Greece from Türkiye. He finally succeeded in his third attempt, arriving on Kos by boat. It was March 2022.
One month later, Yahya received a positive asylum decision from the Greek Government and set out to organize his new life in Greece. For Yahya, it was vital to start working without delay. He had learned from a young age to be self-reliant.
During that time, a job fair specifically for refugees was held at the reception site in Kos, where Yahya was living. The event was organized by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in partnership with the Ministry of Migration and Asylum and other partners. It was a pioneering initiative for refugees like Yahya to connect with potential employers from the diverse sectors of the island’s community.
Among the participants of the job fair was the Mitsis Hotels group of companies, which at the time was actively recruiting for new employees for its hotels in Kos. Yahya held a degree in Computer Science and had worked in accounting. He had also worked at a bakery. He had no work experience in the tourism industry but that did not deter him from accepting the job offer to him to work at the Blue Domes Resort & Spa. Yahya, hard-working as he is, saw this as an opportunity to make his first professional steps in Greece.
Since then, Yahya is part of the hotel’s cleaning services department. Alongside his colleagues, he is responsible for maintaining the bed linens and towels of the resort, which hosts thousands of guests each year. He still vividly recalls his very first day at work and the array of emotions he experienced.
“Everything was new: the place, the people, the job itself. It was my very first job in Greece, and I was filled with excitement”, he says.
Yahya is naturally reserved, but his face lights up when he talks about his work. During the recruitment process, UNHCR stood by his side, supporting with interpretation in completing the necessary paperwork and informing him about his rights and obligations. Equally important was the support he received from his colleagues and particularly his supervisor, Katerina, who warmly welcomed him into the team, explained his duties and went the extra mile to accompany him through the administrative processes he needed to conclude involving banks and public services.
“For us – who are at home and know how things work here – it’s not a burden to help someone coming to the country for the first time who doesn’t know who to turn to”, says Katerina. She describes Yahya as a “very nice and respectful young man who never creates problems.”
The team in which Yahya works is very close-knit, with employees supporting each other. Whether it is during work or breakfast breaks, you can hear them laughing and joking. Despite their demanding workload, their primary concern is to check daily on each other’s well-being and offer help when needed.
Working daily alongside Yahya is Olia from Bulgaria, who goes above and beyond to ensure that Yahya feels like an integral part of the team.
“I don’t want to leave him alone because he doesn’t have anyone to speak his language with at work. I help him in any way I can. I don’t separate him from the rest of the team. Truly, he is one of us,” says Olia.
These values of acceptance and inclusion are deeply ingrained in the hotel’s culture. Mr. Michalis Anthoulakis, General Manager of the Mitsis Blue Domes Resort & Spa hotel, is the person who hired Yahya. He explains how the hotel group embraces a diverse workforce of various nationalities, therefore fostering an environment of harmonious co-existence.
“We employ different personalities and nationalities, various religions, many languages and specializations, creating a multicultural environment that is equally embraced by our customers in the sense that they similarly come from diverse backgrounds,” he explains.
For Yahya, work serves not only as a source of income but also as a means of integration into the local community. Through his job, he regularly encounters new people and gradually improves his Greek. The hotel’s General Manager recalls that in Yahya’s early days of employment, they relied on online translation tools to communicate. Today, Yahya has learned several essential phrases for his day-to-day interactions.
“It was a collective effort, and it is in the hotel’s culture to accept others for who they are, to help them contribute with what they have to offer, and to integrate them into the team. We must support a person who leaves their homeland to establish themselves and build a new life,” emphasizes Mr. Anthoulakis.
Yahya is in his second consecutive season of employment at the hotel and maintains the same enthusiasm he initially felt. However, there’s been a significant change; and that’s the growing sense of commitment and belonging, diligently nurtured by Katerina, Olia, and his other colleagues.
Surrounded by his colleagues, Yahya takes a look at the entire team and filled with heartfelt gratitude, he reflects, “This year, I truly feel like I’ve found my place, like I belong here now. The management treats us employees as if we are a family, and that is the most important thing.”
UNHCR, in cooperation with the State and in partnership with expert NGOs, implements initiatives that promote the integration of refugees in Greece and supports them to become self-reliant. These include integration and employability services, job fairs, as well as Greek language classes and vocational training courses.
UNHCR’s integration programmes are implemented thanks to flexible contributions of the United States, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Ireland.