A new cycle of cooperation begins between the Municipality of Athens and UNHCR

The new Vice-Mayor of the City of Athens for the social integration of migrants and refugees, Mr. Thanassis Chimonas, met, on Friday 19 January 2024, the Representative of UNHCR in Greece, Ms. Maria Clara Martin, launching a new cycle of cooperation between the new municipal authority and the international organization.

The meeting, which was attended by the Head of the Department of Support and Social Integration of Migrants and Refugees of the Social Solidarity Department of the City of Athens, Mr. Panagiotis Psathas, proposed the strengthening of the close cooperation between the two entities for the benefit of refugees living in Athens. Critical areas of concern are the integration into the labour market and the unhindered access of refugees and asylum-seekers to the services of the City of Athens.

Ms. Maria Clara Martin acknowledged the City of Athens’ commitment to promote integration, noting swift response to the invitation for pledges extended by UNHCR to actors worldwide in the framework of the Global Refugee Forum. “I am optimistic that the City of Athens will continue to lead the coordination among civil society, international organizations and municipal services towards a pioneering model of holistic and well-coordinated provision of services to refugees and migrants” she noted.

“Our goal is to implement actions that significantly help third country citizens to have equal access to services and life in the city”, said Mr. Thanassis Chimonas, noting that the cooperation of local governments with international organizations is crucial for the design and implementation of inclusive policies and practices.

The Vice-Mayor had the opportunity to talk to the UNHCR’s field team and learn about its activities and framework of operation, as well as the main issues faced by refugees and asylum-seekers in Athens.

UNHCR is one of the closest partners of the City of Athens in the field of integration of third country nationals. In July 2022, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the City of Athens and UNHCR to strengthen their cooperation in the reception and integration of refugees. In addition, since April 2020, UNHCR, together with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), have been supporting the operation of the Athens Coordination Centre for Migrant and Refugee Issues (ACCMR) and the Cities Network for Integration (CNI). At the same time, UNHCR has been supporting the operation of the City of Migrant Integration Center of the City of Athens (KEM Athens) through specific programmes.

The fields of cooperation

The Migrant Integration Center (KEM) is a reference point for refugees and migrants in the City of Athens, offering a range of social integration services and activities, as well as best practice, being a model for other municipalities in Greece and Europe. UNHCR will continue to support the actions and operation of the KEM by supporting specific services offered on the one hand through the Disabilities Inclusive Programme which enhances access to services for people with disabilities and long-term illnesses and on the other hand through the free preparation courses for the Certificate of Knowledge Adequacy for Naturalization (PEGP) exams.

At the same time, emphasis will be placed on the already long-standing cooperation between the two institutions in identifying gaps and obstacles regarding refugees’ access to the social welfare system, aiming at developing targeted programmes and advocacy actions.

UNHCR will also continue to support the operation of the Athens Coordination Centre for Migrant and Refugee Issues, a recognized practice at international level, which allows the exchange of information, good practices, and the development of partnerships between the Municipality and civil society, international organizations, and the central administration. ACCMR has also taken a central role in coordinating 18 Greek municipalities to exchange know-how and develop initiatives within the framework of the Cities Network for Integration.