Doctors of the World Greece shelter in Athens: From hotel to House for All

November 4, 2016

A former hotel in downtown Athens is now home to 12 refugee families from Syria, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Pakistan and Iraq. Set up last February as a shelter for vulnerable people by Doctors of the World Greece, residents can check out any time they like, but, for now at least, they can’t leave Greece. House for All is a project funded by the IOM (International Organization of Migration).

‘House for all’ Accommodated over 70 people in the last 5 months since its opening, currently 48 residents, the majority women and children. ‘This is our third shelter in Athens and the second one for refugees, an initiative which adds to our work providing medical aid to thousands of vulnerable people all over Greece’, President of the Board of Directors of Doctors of the World Greece Kanakis Nikitas explains.

Antonia, DotW Social Worker at the shelter, starts her first week listening to Izzaldin's story while his wife Raghda is making coffee and Rashida Tizaoui, a Moroccan-born new resident in Greece, interprets from Arabic to Greek and English. Antonia: 'This is the best thing about my job, listening. I am never tired when I go home, even though some days get crazy. It is important for them to feel somebody cares, although we can't always help them the way they would like. I try to take all their issues, questions and complaints seriously, small or big.' (MdM Tess Vonck)

DotWG staff at the shelter provides psychosocial support, refers residents in need of special care to the public hospital in Athens or the DotW polyclinic for primary healthcare, and helps refugees engage with the wider Greek community as it becomes increasingly clear residents won’t be leaving any time soon. Greek language lessons are taught by locals, parents receive help to get their kids to school and volunteers engage in weekly workshops to help cope with daily life as a refugee, together.

Qamar (right), a civil engineer from Homs and her eight-year-old son Yusuf were found by a DotW mobile team around port Piraeus and transferred to the shelter 4 months ago. The family got separated - her husband, a former General, deserted from the Syrian army - on the journey to from Turkey to Europe. While he made it to the Netherlands before the borders closed, Qamar and Yusuf got stranded in Greece. Thanks to the help of DotW mother and son found a safe place to stay while awaiting the outcome of their family reunification procedure. Yusuf will attend school for the first time in his life in September, a treat that was near to impossible in Turkey and Syria due to his autism condition. (MdM Tess Vonck)

Residents in the off-white four story building enjoy a safe environment, en suite showers and comfortable beds, but mostly care and support that gives them a chance to start their new lives and recharge batteries. Because of this reason, the shelter was recently praised as ‘an example of positive integration’ by Europe’s leading Human Rights advocate Nils Muiznieks during his visit last July. 

People stay here for a variety of reasons. Most of the residents now are refugees, fleeing war and terror. ‘They stay here for a few months because they need a temporary safe shelter’, says DotW social worker at the shelter Antonia. ‘Until their request for asylum in Greece has been approved. DotW helps them find a more permanent place to live. When they find work, they can live on their own. Other residents are awaiting the outcome of their application for relocation or family reunification.’

Older kids take care of their youngest siblings. Many youngsters have learned how to take responsibility during the harsh times back home and on the road to Europe. (MdM Tess Vonck)

Safeguarding vulnerable refugees is a major focus of DotW’s work on refugees in Greece. This shelter is only one of the many innovative and proactive measures taken by DotW to identify and protect vulnerable refugees. 

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