The Greek Forum of Refugees is a Non-Governmental Organisation. We collaborate closely with the UNHCR, working together to make refugee camps a better place. We try to council refugees in their own languages about their rights and opportunities, and yes, we do that within an institutional frame. Other than us, there are various solidarity initiatives throughout Greece, who, through informal networks, continue the amazing work they started last year when the number of refugees in Greece increased so immensely. They were there on the islands, in the cities when the arrivals came with nothing but wet clothes and the horror put on them by wars and instability, by the dangerous journeys imposed on them by Europe. Also, refugee communities themselves helped to a very high extent and were able to speak to refugees in their language and explain to them a lot about the country. Refugee communities often are not organised in an institutional way, however their contribution is widely recognized by institutions.
We believe that it was and is the variety of actors in the field that may provide the best support for newcomers, since the state and the EU have mostly neglected them. Unfortunately, in the past days and weeks we have seen a worrying criminalisation of those working on the ground, unattached to big organizations.
Just this week, the Solicafes in both Lesbos and Chios were brutally evicted. Both volunteers and refugees were arrested. While they were later released, the Solicafes, a place of shelter and aid for any refugee, remain closed. Earlier this month, the refugees protesting at the port of Chios were evicted, after fascists gathered in front and threatened the people there. Both refugees and, again, volunteers were arrested. In Idomeni, helpers were arrested when entering the camp. Generally the tension is high. The actions of the Greek police were fueled by an international discourse, describing solidarity initiatives as a so-called “pull-factor.” Also, the volunteers are being accused of inciting riots among the refugees and of persuading them to be in inofficial places rather than in camps provided by the government. We see that these actions have a clear purpose: unofficial sites such as the camp at port of Piraeus or in Idomeni are supposed to disappear. However, whether involved in the volunteering with refugees or condemning it: it is not a crime to do be in solidarity. In a democracy, citizens have the right – and we think, the obligation – to support minorities and to take action and show their compassion. It is not at the authorities’ discretion whether solidarity with refugees is shown, depending on how much they measure its usefulness, or as currently, its inconvenience.
We stand for the idea to work together with and for refugees to improve their living conditions and access to rights. We acknowledge the different means through which this is it is being done. Instead of condemning people for helping refugees, we want to inspire everyone to do it. Everyone is needed here – a lot is yet to be done.