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 WELCOMMON and the Development Agency of the Municipality of Athens and UNHCR, that started in September 2016, will be finished soon. Today (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. 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.
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.
We are different
– 160-170 refugees from 18 different countries/nationalities, a total of 600 since the opening of the center in October 2016, most of them very vulnerable, people who have suffered in their own skin the violence,
– 160 volunteers from 4 different continents (Europe, Africa, Asia and America) who participated in many activities for and with the refugees, gaining experiences and feelings, having the opportunity to understand better and respect the different cultures. It is also an important experience for them and an opportunity to acquire know-how (much more if they have relevant knowledge or work professionally in relevant fields).
– 32 employees, most of them long-term unemployed Greek citizens, some enthusiastic – but with no experience in job – youngsters, a number of migrants living in Greece for many years and 1 new comer- refugee. We make sure we have interpreters and social mediators for everyone.
– the local authorities, the local community, educational institutions and organizations from all over the world.
WELCOMMON is a structure not only for refugees but with refugees for the benefit of the local community as well. It is implemented by the social enterprise Wind of Renewal (“Anemos Ananeosis” – WoR).
If you would like to learn more about WELCOMMON, please visit our web site http://www.welcommon.gr or/and see the links with videos in this text. If you agree that Greece but also Europe needs such an innovative center for the most vulnerable refugees, we ask your kind support to this model community center where we combine decent and safe housing with social inclusion and job integration of the most vulnerable refugees.
How did we formulate the project
In order to shape our project, we cooperated with communities and organizations representing migrants and refugees in our country (Greek Migrants Forum, Greek Refugee Forum, Syrians living in Greece and others). In addition, we studied the existing (good and bad) examples of similar projects. Our plan differs from most others, because it aims in an integrated way of reception and housing (in decent conditions) of refugees who need long term care and support, but also in supporting their social and job integration.
– Decent and safe housing, food and coverage of basic needs. We also meet the nutritional needs of the guests, as accurately as possible, depending on age, health status or cultural perceptions. Guests can wash their clothes in the washing machines and tumblers that exist in the center, or use sewing machines to repair them.
– Psychosocial support. 3 social workers , 1 psychologist and 1 chlid-psycholigist are working in the center. We support systematically and on many levels the preparation, intercultural education and social inclusion of our guests – for us they are not only numbers and papers – in cooperation with organizations and services based in Greece or in the countries of resettlement.
– Primary medical care and systematic support (medical records file, interpreting, escort) for secondary care, if necessary, with respect to the cultural and religious sensibilities of the guests, especially since the populations we host now are among the most vulnerable ones and with multiple needs. Primary medical care is provided on a daily basis by WELCOMMON’s nurse and midwife, wehave a close cooperation on a voluntary basis with the Doctors Without Frontiers, the Spanish Red Cross and arab-speaking doctors of the Union of Syrians in Greece.
– Non-formal education of children as well as adults, such as: continuous and innovative language courses (Greek, Arabic, English, German and more), painting, music, photography, theater, creative activities for adults and children, sports, dancing. We help and prepare the children who have been out of school for many years to be able to attend attend the greek school immediately. We are very proud for our “arabic class” as well as for the tutoring lessons (language lessons and help with the lessons in school) for children that participate in the formal Greek educational system. The walls of our building are slowly being transformed to a “gallery” with “exhibitions” of paintings done by our guests at WELCOMMON.
To local community
– Innovative services and new organizational models that help address social issues in a way that benefits both vulnerable social groups and society as a whole. These models could be applied to other vulnerable groups, such as long-term unemployed greeks, socially excluded people with socio-psychological difficulties and people with special needs.
– New jobs creation in WELCOMMON, directly for about 32 people up today, who upgrade their knowledge, experiences and skills so as to be able to respond to new demands of their profession (e.g. teachers, social workers, psychologists etc.). In fact, we offer a kind of continuous practice and vocational training through working at WELCOMMON (both for employees and for volunteers from Greece and around the world). We offer work opportunities in a complex and multicultural-multilingual environment, with refugees from 18 different countries and volunteers from many different countries, with a multitude of different skills and abilities, with different cognitive and cultural backgrounds. We seek systematic cooperation with other institutions (universities, international organizations, social organizations, municipalities, professional bodies) from Greece and abroad, while we host seminars and exchanges practices in fields such as social services, psychological support, education, accommodation of refugees and other vulnerable groups, thus strongly contributing to professionals’ expertise.
– Boosting of the local economy and market as all the resources being spent for the operation of WELCOMMON, return to the greek ecomony and the local market
Social integration – socialization
As part of the process of social inclusion and cultural / environmental awareness of the refugees, we emphasize in art as it works therapeutically and can unite people. We want refugee but also local children to get familiarized with art in their daily live. We emphasise both on organized visits to museums and exhibitions, as well as on artistic activities in our own center.
3 important awards in one year
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.
The French Federation of Social Inclusion Enterprises invited WELCOMMON to participate in its national Congress organized in November 16-17, in Marseille, as a “good example of social inclusion in Euro-Med area”.
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. The Bestowing Ceremony took place in Tallinn (16/12/2017) with the support of the Estonian Foreign Ministry.
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”
– An article published by the e-newsletter «Cooperative.news»: «Taking steps to meet the long-term needs of refugees»
How you could support and help us
Taking into consideration the above, we would be glad to provide you with further information of our work as well as to discuss with you if you
-have some ideas how you could help our fundraising campaign for the WELCOMMON center or/and
-know institutions, foundations and organizations who could support our work.
We remain at your disposal
Chairman of “Wind of Renewal”
Project manager of WELCOMMON