The Migrant Integration Centre has been operating in the Metaxourgeio district of central Athens since the spring of 2018, its main purpose being to assist immigrant and refugee social integration. What prompted a centre like this to be set up was the need to provide specialised services to immigrants and refugees in their own language. Amongst other things, the Migrant Integration Centre provides administrative assistance (as in the case of social welfare), psychosocial support, legal counselling, and referral of requests to the appropriate service. The Centre also uses interpreters to carry out programmes that promote social inclusion.
From the beginning of the year and in conjunction with the UNHCR, the Centre has been offering Greek and English lessons free of charge to migrants and anyone granted international protection. The aim of the classes is twofold: to assist the participants’ social integration and to help them pass any necessary language exams. There were hundreds of thousands of applications for the Greek course, which shows just how great the need is in Athens. There were also many applicants for the English course. The English teacher, Ms Anastasia Simatou, pointed out that the majority of participants are beginners, which is why she needs to find textbooks designed for teaching English as a foreign language.
Computer lessons are also offered. The teacher, Ms Effie Kolionika, told us that her main problem is that some of her students speak neither Greek nor English. Professional orientation sessions have recently been added to the programme, and together with the computer lessons, these should facilitate access to the labour market. The first groups graduated a few months ago and celebrated their achievement with a small ceremony at the Centre.
Other parts of the programme that promotes social inclusion are intercultural activities for children and young people, such as a theatre group. However, there are no activities aimed specifically at teenagers.
The Vice-Mayor on Migrant and Refugee Affairs, Mr Lefteris Papayiannakis, who is responsible for the Centre, commented that “apart from actually helping immigrants and refugees themselves, the Centre has made these people more visible to the municipality as an institution, and to its inhabitants as individuals.”. Migrants and refugees face substantial difficulties; it is therefore important to address these at institutional level and set up suitable programmes.
For more information, please visit the Centre’s website at www.accmr.gr/en