The City of Athens with more than 14,000 people may currently be hosting the largest number of refugees in Greece, but more than 7,613 people in total live in municipalities in Central, Northern and Western Greece and Crete, as part of the 'ESTIA' accommodation program financed by the European Union's Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO).

''90% of children at the age of nursery and primary education, attend school, while there have also been 13 births in our town since the beginning of the housing program. These are very promising facts that create both positive prospects, as well as challenges for our municipality," said Marinis Beretsos, Director of Parnonas Development Agency SA, which implements the Emergency Support to Integration and Accommodation program ‘Estia’, in cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The municipality of Tripoli provides housing to 287 beneficiaries, of whom 32 have been recognized as refugees.

Given the absence of a national integration plan, local authorities and communities are invited to overcome challenges on a daily basis in order to find solutions to smaller or larger issues concerning the needs of a changing population. The Mayor of Tripoli, Mr. Dimitris Pavlis, says: "Whether it is Tripoli or Athens, we need to join forces in order to make our voices heard by the central administration".

This is precisely the objective of the ‘Cities Network for Integration’: the creation of a pluralistic and unified platform that promotes the voice of local government on integration issues at national level. Tripoli is one of the 12 cities* participating in this innovative project, which began in January 2018 on the initiative of the two largest municipalities in the country - Athens and Thessaloniki. The first phase of activities is being implemented by the Athens Coordination Center for Migrant and Refugee Issues (ACCMR), which operates with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation as founding donor, under the supervision of the Vice Mayor’s Office for Migrants and Refugees and with the coordination of the Athens Partnership. The initiative is implemented in cooperation with the IRC (International Rescue Committee) and funded by the European Union's Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid.

"We are exploring the real needs of municipalities with a view to developing specialized tools and integration policies that will allow us to work together in a common direction," explains George Sarelakos, project manager at ACCMR. The ACCMR team, which plays a central role both regarding the coordination of the project and the knowledge transfer, is currently visiting the municipalities that have already joined the Network to collect information on problems they experience and good practices they have developed.

One of the biggest issues raised by the housing program’s team in Tripoli, is access to employment. Despite the obstacles, the project team has already begun to map the skills of the beneficiaries to draw up individual action plans. Also, the establishment of Greek and Arabic language learning sections in the context of school integration, as well as the massive vaccination of children with the support of local actors, reveal a sensitive local society seeking ways of coexistence.

The representatives of all municipalities - members of the 'Cities Network for Integration', are coming together for the first time next week in Athens, and will have the opportunity to share their valuable experiences and suggestions during a one-day workshop organized by the Vice-Mayor’s Office for Migrants and Refugees.

* 12 municipalities have joined the ‘Cities Network for Integration’ to date: Athens, Agios Dimitrios -Attica, Heraklion - Crete, Thessaloniki, Ioannina, Karditsa, Larissa, Levadeia, New Philadelphia - Attica, Piraeus, Trikala and Tripoli.

Photos from left to right 

1st: Mr Marinis Beretsos - Director of Parnonas Development Agency SA, Mr Dimitrios Pavris-Mayor of Tripolis, Mr George Sarelakos - Project manager at ACCMR, Ms Dionysia Lampiri - Project Coordinator at ACCMR 

2nd: Meeting with elected representatives of Tripoli Municipality and representatives of  'ESTIA' accommodation program team.

3rd: Outside of 'ESTIA' accommodation program offices an employee speaks with a refugee. 

4th: (Center) Mr Dimitrios Koliniotis, Purchasing Manager at 'Estia' accommodation program. 

5th: (Left) Mr Sotiris Papadimos - Vice Mayor of Tripoli, (Right) Mr Nikolaos Totsis - Municipal Councillor 

Text - Photos: Marina Tomara - ACCMR