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“We have a home of our own and people to support us”

Journalist: Apostolos Staikos
Operator/Editor: Simon Chabas

I have two flatmates. It is very important to make new friends and to share responsibilities. My family lives far away; we have made a new family here. So, welcome to our home!” says Yama.

The clock ticks just past five in the evening as the 21-year-old refugee from Afghanistan returns from work. This week he is in charge of the household supplies.

On the first floor, Ishmael is busy preparing spaghetti with minced meat. The door is slightly ajar and the aroma of his cooking wafts up the stairs. As Yama enters the kitchen he greets his flatmate and places the bags on the counter. He has bought tomatoes, peppers, rice, a kilo of bread, shampoo and shaving cream.

Yama calls Amir, the third member of this community of young refugees residing together in an apartment in the center of Athens. Together they all set the table.

METAdrasi has helped us a lot, through its programme for young people like us. We have recently turned 18, but we still cannot live on our own. We have nowhere to go. We can’t afford to rent a house, some of us still go to school, and others do not earn enough money to get by. The organization literally offers us a safe haven until we become independent,” says Yama.

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The 18+ Programme was initially launched on a pilot basis in 2018 with METAdrasi’s own resources. From 2021 it is also supported by the Kahane Foundation, while from 2023, the Programme is also implemented with the support of UNHCR.

A dedicated supporter of the Organization has generously granted an apartment building in the heart of the city, where 16 young refugees, former unaccompanied minors, share three separate apartments. Female refugees reside in another apartment in Athens, and a similar settlement in Kalamata offers shelter to 8 young refugees.

To date, the Programme has provided safe shelter and protection to over 80 former unaccompanied minors originating from 17 countries, including Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and Palestine. Within approximately a year, 60% of these young people live independently; they work and rent their own homes. However, even in this phase, METAdrasi’s dedicated team continues to closely monitor their progress and remains prepared to help in any way they may require.

The 18+ Programme addresses a significant gap in the support of young refugees. Before reaching adulthood, most unaccompanied refugees are provided housing and access to school. However, upon reaching 18, the State declares them adults and expects them to live on their own. But can any child, on the very day they turn 18, manage without any support? This transition simply cannot happen overnight.” This is exactly where the Organization takes action. And it is because children still need help to find a job, to smoothly integrate into society and to become self-sufficient” says the project manager, Filippos Filippidis.

Apart from shelter, the activity provides young refugees services that address their basic needs, such as legal assistance and psychosocial support.

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The Programme places a strong emphasis on labor market integration and skill development. METAdrasi’s team creates an individualized plan for each refugee, aiming at their independence through education and employment.

I monitor the children’s progress on a daily basis. I help them with whatever they need. From a doctor’s appointment to filing documents at a public office. There are young refugees who join the Programme and know nothing about Athens. I guide them on how to get a ticket and how to get around the city. Gradually, they become familiar with the other children, build connections and friendships, improve their Greek language skills, and gain confidence,” says the social worker of the 18+ Programme, Christianna Papadopoulou.

Watching the progress and development of the young refugees is the most rewarding part to all the METAdrasi’s team. Of course, there are still difficult aspects, since some young refugees were facing even survival issues before joining the 18+ Programme.

About six months ago we accommodated a homeless child in one of our apartments. As I was explaining some things to him, I realized that he hadn’t eaten for days. When I asked him, he denied being hungry. I suggested we go out to eat. Sure enough, he was completely starving. When we got home he took my hand and said “family, family”. That was a moment I will never forget,” says Christiana.

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In a few months, some children will have to leave the Programme after they turn 22. Yama will soon have to rent his own place and become eventually fully independent. Although the young refugee feels ready to take the next, big step, METAdrasi will continue to stand by his side for as long as he needs.       

I arrived in Greece in 2019. I was all alone, I didn’t know anything or anyone. Fortunately, our paths crossed with METAdrasi. They found me a house, helped me with my papers and enrolled me in school. Later on, they gave me a job as an interpreter in the Organization. The 18+ Programme is a great opportunity for me and for all young refugees. We have found shelter and support in everything we need. We can focus on our education and work so that we can prepare ourselves for the next stages of our lives,” says the young refugee from Afghanistan.

It is almost nightfall. Amir thanks Ishmael for cooking the pasta, cheekily remarking to use a little more salt next time. Ishmael nods and takes a look at the sink which is filled with glasses, spoons and pots. Ishmael cooked, and Amir did the laundry this morning. It’s now Yama’s turn to wash the dishes.

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