Yesterday, METAdrasi welcomed at the Dormitory for Unaccompanied Children in Athens the United States Ambassador to Greece, Geoffrey R. Pyatt, accompanied by the Deputy Minister of Migration and Asylum, Sofia Voultepsis and the representative of the Municipality of Athens, Melina Daskalaki, Advisor for Support and Social Integration of Migrants and Refugees.
METAdrasi’s President thanked Mr. Pyatt for the support that the Embassy offers for the expansion of the Dormitory and the Municipality of Athens for the provision of catering, cleaning and security services. She informed the visitors about the daily life of the children, pointing out that during the day the children attend Greek language lessons, participate in creative activities and are supported for the various issues they face by the specialized staff employed at the Day Center and are therefore supported around the clock. She expressed her concern about the increasing cases of placement of homeless unaccompanied minors in the camps instead of the Dormitory, which is a safe and suitable place for children and which does not burden the state budget at all, nor the budget of the European Commission.
“I have so much respect for what all of you at METAdrasi do, what you represent,” Mr. Pyatt, while Ms. Voultepsi described the dormitory as “exceptional” and pledged that any difficulties would be addressed immediately.
Read the post of the Athens News Agency, in Greek, here.
English transaltion below:
Geoffrey Pyatt and Sofia Voultepsi visit the only dormitory for homeless minors
Today the American Ambassador to Greece G. R. Pyatt and the Deputy Minister for Migration and Asylum Sofia Voultepsi visited the only dormitory for homeless minors in Athens. “This has been our dream for the last 4 years, because many children were homeless,” the president of METAdrasi, Lora Pappa, said, referring to unaccompanied refugee minors, although the space is available for all homeless children, without exception or discrimination.
The dormitory operates in conjunction with the Day Centre of the NGO METAdrasi, where the children go in the mornings to take part in creative or educational activities, or to Greek language classes if necessary. The dormitory was created thanks to the prize awarded to METAdrasi in 2019 by the Conrad E. Hilton Foundation, which carried a substantial financial reward.
The president of the organisation said, “We immediately decided we’d create a structure for homeless children. At the start of 2020 we set up a Day Centre, along with a mobile unit; and after five months we got the permit for a dormitory, which opened its doors in May 2021. The Municipality of Athens has given us great support and also much help with food, cleaning and surveillance, on a daily basis.”
Any child can have access to the dormitory, not only unaccompanied refugee minors, although Ms. Pappa kept repeating her primary aim: “No more children in the camps. No child should live in a camp.” Members of METAdrasi explained that the dormitory could prove useful in extreme cases to single parents who have no access to other family support, or children who belong to vulnerable groups. Since May around 100 children have passed through the dormitory; they usually stay from one day to three months until a better, more permanent solution is found.
Addressing himself to the members of the organization, Mr. Pyatt said, “I have great respect for everything you are doing here at METAdrasi and for all you represent. It is undoubtedly the best face of Greece, and if one is to consider the meaning of filoxenia (hospitality), it is difficult to imagine a better manifestation for it than what METAdrasi is doing all over the country. I’m proud of the support you are getting from the United States, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. I think this aspect of Greek history needs to be highlighted more. The international press gives a lot of attention to the bleak side of the refugee crisis, but not enough to the generosity of NGOs here in Greece and the genuinely humanitarian spirit I have encountered in so many places; in Athens, Thessaloniki, in Chios and Lesvos.”
The refugee crisis is “a challenge for all of us. And it is a challenge that Greece cannot be expected to shoulder alone. It is a European problem and the 27 members of the European Union need to share this burden, just as in the United States we have to deal with similar issues,” Mr Pyatt emphasised.
At the moment the dormitory contains 60 beds, which will shortly be increased to 100. Mr Pyatt spoke to members of the staff who themselves arrived in Greece as unaccompanied minors some years ago and have distinguished themselves by their capabilities: Mamadou Hadi Diallo and Morteza Alimi, who is also a marathon runner. “I’m impressed by both Mamadou and your marathon runner,” Mr Pyatt said, “because they are proof that working with teams such as those of METAdrasi helps people to develop and become useful and active members of society. That is the hope we all share. For the children, it is obvious that school is extremely important and we have discussed this with [Minister of Education] Mrs Kerameos.”
Taking advantage of this visit, Deputy Minister of Migration and Asylum Mrs Sofia Voultepsi explained that, regarding education, “problems arise in public schools since many children arrive in Greece speaking only their native language. Therefore, we will start a three-year program with UNICEF to implement a non-formal system of education in order to bridge the gap with formal education, so that the children can more easily integrate into Greek public school, which is difficult even for Greeks. Our aim is to try to get all the children into school. In any case, school is obligatory in Greece and refugees learn that when they arrive.”
Mrs Voultepsi described the dormitory as ‘excellent’ and promised that any difficulties in transferring the children to other structures would be dealt with immediately. Also, Mrs Voultepsi mentioned the initiative taken by the New Democracy Government to remove children who still remain in police stations, and noted that before the relevant law was passed, more than 300 unaccompanied minors lingered at police stations. She also noted that more than 1,000 unaccompanied minors have been relocated to other European countries, despite the closed borders due to the pandemic.
Representing the Mayor of Athens Mr. Bakoyannis, Mrs Melina Daskalaki said that “the Municipality has supported the actions of METAdrasi from the start and would like to extend this collaboration. Mr Bakoyannis and the Municipality of Athens have taken important actions concerning the minors. For example, they have offered the use of the Aghios Andreas camping grounds whenever there was a need to house homeless minors, and special measures were taken during the forest fires; also at Elaionas which is a special camp, because it is situated within an urban environment. We will be by your side,” Mrs Daskalaki stressed. “It is time we abandoned the idea of first entry and moved to a process of integration, especially in Athens.”
During the visit, Mr Pyatt and Mrs Voultepsi talked to some of the children, noting that they mainly slept in parks before they were taken in, and also learning about the difficult journey they had to undertake to get to Greece. Mrs Pappa then presented the Ambassador with the Conrad N. Hilton Medal, saying that, “We consider you a member of METAdrasi, for your continued assistance, which is not only financial; we appreciate the support of our cause.” Mr Pyatt then congratulated the organisation and its members for their work and also thanked Mr Bakoyannis because of the way he is dealing with this problem, and because he has recognised the benefits these minorities represent for the renewal of the city.