A Walk On The Wild Side – Integration through activity for refugees in Epirus

North-Western Greece refugee camps
May 30, 2017

With the financial support of the European Commission, Doctors of the World (DotW) is helping refugees in North-Western Greece to gain a literally entirely new perspective on their surroundings, with a new hiking group designed to engage them in activities, and begin to integrate with the wider community.

It has just 16 members so far, but Storm – a hiking group set up by DotW with refugees at Filippiada camp, near Ioannina – is a new part of efforts to help men, women and children whose lives have been ruined by war, find enjoyable and normalising activities and build bridges to the communities close to where they are living.

DotW psychologist Yiannis Anagnostou, explained: ‘Here at Filippiada, the camp is quite remote. People can travel into the town by bus, but we are in the mountains and it feels far from everywhere. I thought that it would be great to start something here to get people more involved in their local community. I also thought it would be great to get them involved with a local organisation which was already involved in the same activity.

‘Because this is a beautiful region, I thought it would be good to help people to start a hiking group.’

Integration for refugee communities has become a steadily more important issue in Greece, where tens of thousands of people have been living in camps and with uncertain status for almost 12 months now. At Filippiada, a camp of 236 mainly Afghani and Syrian people, some have also only recently been moved from centres on the Greek islands.

Even though most of those seeking asylum hope to leave Greece for other nations, integration now will help them to settle faster in the places they eventually move to.

And activity is also vital. The refugee camps and accommodation centres in Greece are able to provide the basic needs for survival, but DotW is working hard to counteract the effects of working men and women – and school-age children – who have been through traumatic experiences, spending every day with almost nothing to do except think about whether and when they will be allowed to leave and start their lives elsewhere.

Yiannis said: ‘It’s not just about hiking, it’s about involving and engaging them in the whole process, all the training, running the group, making this all happen. It’s giving them the chance to take control of something, start something new and make it work from start to finish.’

But although it is not only about hiking, the aim is of course for the teal to get out into the mountainous countryside surrounding the camp.

To help with that, Yiannis has enlisted the assistance of a local hiking group – with positive results also for the local area.

He explained: ‘It’s a way to help unite people here in the camp with people who live nearby. I wrote to the group, and they were very welcoming and invited me to come to see them. They had some concerns. One asked whether the refugees have diseases. I explained that of course they don’t, but it was an interesting chance to break down some concerns and potential barriers. Even though the refugees have been here for so long, people do not see them or meet them, so stories can build up. So this was a chance to help them understand more about what was happening close to them, too.’

The local group is now training the members of ‘Storm’ in skills including map-reading, orienteering and teaching them about the flora and fauna they will see on their walks, while DotW is providing them with First Aid training. After the first hike, which Storm’s members will take with the local group, the two teams may hike together twice each month.

‘It’s something which might seem unusual for a medical aid organisation to have set up,’ Yiannis began. ‘But it’s really about promoting mental health – giving the opportunity for activities, and a sense of being a part of something wider than ourselves. I hope the group will work well – everyone is working for that – and then we will look at the potential for other activities as well.’

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