More than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015.The completed conflict in Syria, the ongoing violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, abuses in Eritrea, as well as poverty in Kosovo keep on creating large screams of people searching for safe and comfortable accommodations. There are many stereotypes about the infinite benefits refugees get from different governments. In reality, the majority of government-run camps offers poor living conditions. For this reason, volunteers’ organizations and community centers have been gaining in popularity. There are a proof and a good example of this phenomenon.  

Prisoners or welcome visitors?

Initially, many refugees immigrating to the Europe perceive this step as the way to start a new life in safe heaven free of typical for their homeland torture. Actually, their expectations tend to be far from reality. Asylum seekers who propose that their human rights will be fully respected face many difficulties and contradictions including police discrimination, poor living conditions in refugee camps and residences, institutional deprivation. Many European governments provide these people with immediate and essential support for their most basic needs. Such services consist of temporary housing, financial help, numerous welfare services, pathways to employment, and special communities. This part of their “new” life is quite stable and solid. The problem is that they mostly cope with social non-acceptance and humiliation. Due to some stereotypes, refugees from the Middle East are treated as if they were terrorists. That’s why many of them prefer to return home – there might be unsafe but customary.

The role of Greece in the European Refugee Crisis

In 2015, the number of people arrived in the European Union has gained its peak. This process has touched Greece strongly. During the past two years, 1.3 million people fleeing conflict and fear have traveled through this country in search of safety and a better life in Europe. With the closure of the Balkan borders, they lost the possibility to cross its frontiers and continue their journey. Many migrants were left without adequate accommodation, healthcare, and access to education. These facts have been traumatizing them as terribly as increasing stress of uncertainty and constant waiting. Actually, the situation is improving. By July 217, the European Commission has awarded emergency support contracts totaling €401 million to its humanitarian aid partners in Greece, such as UN bodies, the Red Cross/Crescent movement, and NGOs.

Currently, over 62, 000 migrants and refugees are stranded in the country.  Most of them do not want to be there. The level of their mental health is worrying. Although the government makes attempts to meet their basic needs and establish a social safety net, it is not enough. For this reason, activists from all over the world create new movements of humanitarian aid. They act where governmental and other non-governmental bodies are unable to, working to fill the huge and terrifying gaps in services for those displaced by war in Europe and beyond. They coordinate their actions in Germany, Sweden, Italy, Greece and other countries. There are many well-known projects such as Help Refugees, Refugee Support, Refugees International. In fact, this number is quite large. Even local community centers do much impact helping governments to overcome a migrant crisis.

For instance, have you ever heard of Khora – a non-hierarchical collective founded by refugees and volunteers in Athens? If not, let’s learn about it together!

What if one person has a unique idea

Khora was opened at the beginning of 2016 by a group of volunteers who saw the dire need for a sustainable initiative for asylum seekers in Athens. The story of this community has started with Sam Joseph, a 26-years-old activist who salvaged food from supermarket skips. With other volunteers, he set up field kitchen in Lesbos to feed refugees. This significant project has inspired them to expand their working fields. According to Emma Musty, another UK volunteer who joined the Skipchen project, they wanted “to give people a chance to have the better quality of life, to have more opportunity to socialize and move on”. As a result, they have successfully achieved this goal.

Khora was organized in order to create a space where people from a diverse set of backs, countries, cultures, and languages would be able to study, work, socialize and relax. They do not pretend to create an illusion of home but they make this place migrants’ real home. The consequences of conflicts they escaped and difficulties they seek are its main working framework. Participants of this community believe in freedom of movement for all the people, as they follow an important principle – “we are the same”. This idea can be easily supported by the fact that some of the volunteers are also refugees. So, the way a person came to Greece – on an airplane or inflatable raft – doesn’t matter. The only important point is the wish and readiness to help through overcoming loneliness and separation from family. Somaya, an Arabic/English translator, says that she often feels sad there, as it is hard to be a single mum, but she keeps on helping people because she values this work.

Why Khora?

Even though many refugee communities have the same aim – to offer support and patronage (food, dentistry, internet, education, and information), the ways of realizing this aim are different. Instead of helping, some organizations instill complete loss of hope. Especially, when most provision is depressing and aid workers keep a distance from refugees. Contrary to it, Khora provides language lessons, legal advice, child care, dental services, free clothing, and workshops. It works six days a week affording migrants an opportunity to have pleasant and productive respites. This community is considered to be a symbol of the changing the nature of refugees’ presence in Greece.

Both volunteers and asylum seekers do many activities together: go for picnics, swim at the beach, have dinner. The last one is particularly important, as they often cook national food to remind of home for many of the refugees.

On 30 September 2017, this community celebrated its second anniversary.

“It’s about making people feel human,” one of the Khora’s volunteers says. He is currently cooking a Syrian meal and enjoying some children’ buzzes that usually follow his daily working responsibilities. For him as well as for other volunteers and refugees this high building is not only the provider of many opportunities but also a source of support and safety. Isn’t it what the majority of migrants are seeking for?

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