Trying to find a house was a quite difficult process due to racism and high rents
According to a ministerial decision, people who have been recognized as refugees in our country and lived in accommodation structures – apartments, hostels, open structures – had to leave their homes by the end of May. Those who are housed in apartments rented by SolidarityNow as part of the *ESTIA program were also required to do so. These people had to find housing in a market that, prefers to turn apartments into short-lived homes (airbnb), do not rent to foreigners (refugees and migrants) and, at the same time, requires advance payment of the amount of the guarantee.
Until now, in SolidarityNow 20 people have left their apartments in Athens and Thessaloniki. On the occasion of the World Refugee Day on June 20th, we decided to talk to a family that has managed to find a job and its own apartment, in difficult times for human rights and public health.
Μ. is 26 years old and comes from Cameroon. She met her husband, who comes from Ivory Coast, in Turkey, where they got married. In 2017 they arrived together in Lesvos and then went to Athens. M., being in an advanced stage of pregnancy, was hosted in a women’s shelter, living for a long period away from her partner, who, having no papers, sought refuge in squats in Athens. The couple reunited and moved to Thessaloniki, where they stayed in an apartment in the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ accommodation program. M. managed to get asylum, while her husband confronted obstacles. However, the lawyers of **NRC, who were then managers of the program, managed to get papers for her husband as well.
When the management of the program passed to the hands of SolidarityNow, Iro Kotsopoulou, Social Worker, started supporting the family. “For a long time, the man did not have legal documents and could not work, so the wife had to look for a job. That’s where a very admirable effort begins on her part,” says Iro. Determined to support her family, M. managed to find a job in a factory. All this time her husband had taken care of their young child. He felt inactive and upset that his wife had taken on such a difficult role. “It was a family that did not rely on the monthly allowance. They told me that they have dreams and that they want their own house,” adds Iro. M. from her first meeting with the social worker, had expressed her need to live in her own house and decorate it as she wishes, and not as it’s provided by an organization.
The man as a member of a refugee family, took eventually his legal documents and found work at the same factory as his wife. The two of them asked to work different shifts in order to take care of their child. However, not having time together as a family, an attempt was made by the social worker to enroll the child in a public kindergarten in their area, but there were no places. So, they chose to support financially a woman from their community as to watch over their child. Shortly before the announcement of the exit of those who lived in the accommodation programs, the couple during the lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic, managed to find their own apartment. Their effort was quite difficult, racism, high rents were deterrents. Their frustration was big, as was their anxiety, but despite all the obstacles, they made it and now have their own house, with their own furniture, decorated as they had dreamed. “That’s what they wanted from the first moment. I hope they continue like this,” says Iro, adding, “I admire this woman, and all other women, who manage to stand on their own two feet despite the difficulties”.
* ESTIA, the Emergency Support to Integration and Accommodation programme, is implemented by UNHCR and funded by the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund of the European Union.
** The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is an independent humanitarian organisation helping people forced to flee.