Is there room for innovation in hosting and integration of refugees?

How do Social Economy Enterprises contribute to the integration of migrants?

The Social Economy Enterprise (SEE) model offers a framework for mobilising and enhancing newcomers’ skills. SEEs facilitate the settlement and integration process for immigrants by providing them with employment or training and helping them with practical settlement support. Although they operate in different ways in different national contexts, Social Economy Enterprises have managed to define common principles of action – inclusive, subsidiary protection of the most disadvantaged people – taking a proactive approach to receiving migrants. In this way they have mobilised the relevant communities, activated networks and partnerships, and cooperated with central and local administrations to organise reception and integration processes.

But an innovative project in hosting and social inclusion of refugees ipmplement by a social cooperative in Athens is not needed

WELCOMMON, an innovative, model community center in Athens for accommodation of refugees, especially those who need long term care and protection, the most vulnerable groups of refugees – victims of torture, rape, trafficking, pregnant women, families with newborns, people with disabilities, serious medical conditions, serious psychiatric disorders  is going to be closed by the end of February. Only if we have your support, the support from many citizens, institutions and organisations, we can continue on our innovative, coherent and holistic work for the protection and social inclusion of the most vulnerable refugees. If you agree that innovation and coherent solutions are needed also for the housing and social inclusion of refugees, please go on reading this open letter.

Since October 2016, we have hosted in WELCOMMON 600 refugees, about 40% of them children, from 18 nationalities. But, increasingly, the refugees we are hosting are particularly vulnerable. Τhe refugees who arrive from the Greek islands to the main land are almost only the most vulnerable ones. Today in WELCOMMON, 81 of 150 of our guests belong to the most vulnerable groups: 9 people with special needs, 55 people with severe health problems, 17 people with psychiatric problems. We are also hosting 14 newborns and some pregnant women.

The current cooperation between the social cooperative Wind of Renewal/Anemos Ananeosis who is implementing WELCOMMON and the Development Agency of the Municipality of Athens and UNHCR, that started in September 2016, will be finished soon. On 18/1/2018 we received the official letter GREATHCR24 by the UNHCR informing us that our cooperation will be finished by the end of February 2018 based on the opinion that similar structures are not needed. All the vulnerable refugees will be hosted in apartments. We fully support the hosting of refugees in appartments. But not all of them are ready or able to do this immediately after they have left a hotspot. WELCOMMON is not a hotspot or hotel or a structure

Our experience confirms that an integrated, innovative center offering both decent / safe housing and opportunities for empowerment, social inclusion and job integration of vulnerable refugees is needed now more than ever. Vulnerable refugees like victims of torture, rape, trafficking, with severe health and psychiatric problems need a transition period, integrated efforts, enough time and a supportive environment (of a structure like WELCOMMON) in order to suceed in their new lives. Otherwise, we will see them left behind, excluded and isolated in a appartment without hope and solutions for many of their problems.

That is why we are looking for alternative sources of funding so that we can continue beyond February 2018. We know how difficult is to succeed in that. Funding for such an integrated project is difficult, we know it. There are not open calls at the moment either at the European or at national level for such an innovate and integrated center. Therefore we are depending on the support of many.

What the refugees themselves and others say about the role of WELCOMMON

– Documentary “Working With Refugee Communities in Greece”, by the “In place of War” (IPOW) in cooperation with Anna Lindh Foundation

 Bibiche, from Kongo, “What you really know about the refugees

 Beshir, from Syria, “What you really know about the refugees

 Ghassan, from Syria, “What you really know about the refugees

 –  We are more than papers

– An article published by the e-newsletter «Cooperative.news»:  «Taking steps to meet the long-term needs of refugees»

3 important awards in one year

(a) WELCOMMON was honoured on June 8, 2017 with the “Special Mention” award of the REVES Excellence Award 2017, which aims to strengthen synergies between local / regional authorities and social economy actors, and to highlight the achievements of such cooperation. The evaluation committee consisted of representatives of the European Economic and Social Committee, the European Parliament, the Regional Committee and Social Economy Europe.

(b) The French Federation of Social Inclusion Enterprises invited WIND OF RENEWAL and WELCOMMON to participate in their national Congress organized in November 16-17, in Marseille, as was selected as a “good example of social inclusion in Euro-Med area.

(c)  We are awarded as one of the 3 best examples of projects for refugees contributing to the dialogue between the cultures in the Euro-med area (2017 Euro-Med Dialogue Award) by the Anna Lindh Foundation and the Fondazione Mediterraneo, Italy. The Bestowing Ceremony took place on 16 December 2017 at the Estonian Film Museum with the support of the Estonian Foreign Ministry.

So, is there in practice room for innovation in hosting and integration of refugees?