The Greek island of Lesbos, the second biggest of the country and just separated from Turkey’s coastline by 10 kms of the Aegean Sea, is no stranger to the arrival of asylum seekers and migrants. More than half a million people in need of help have arrived to the Greek coast since the beginning of the crisis.
Caritas Greece has been operating in Lesbos since the first arrivals in the summer of 2015. After the EU-Turkey agreement and the closure of EU borders, most of the people arriving have been stranded in Greece. Needs have changed and Caritas has adapted and started to provide so called protection measures. These are devised to help people to integrate. Examples of such measures are psychosocial support, legal counselling, language classes, professional trainings, etc.
In Lesbos, Caritas Greece is running a protection centre, and also provides a series of social services in the Kara Tepe reception centre.
Caritas Greece’s protection centre hosts some 100 people. They are families with children, including single-parented families, who have been identified as being at high risk of vulnerability.
Chloe Tsernovitch is the field officer of Caritas Greece in the protection centre. She explains that “social support and activities are a central focus of our work. We host the families during the time authorities are treating their asylum applications. Along with meals and shelter, we also offer gymnastics classes, language classes, jewelry-making workshops, performances by Clowns Without Borders. We also cooperate with Boat Refugee Foundation, who support beneficiaries through medical screenings and referrals”.
In the Kara Tepe reception centre, Caritas Greece has decided to adapt to the cultural needs of the residents and to offer its activities in separated places for women and men. There is the “community centre for men” and the “women friendly space”. Both spaces offer a safe environment for individuals to relax, learn languages or professional skills and socialise while waiting for the authorities to process their cases.
“Every time I come here, I forget everything else. I am becoming relaxed and make friends, also from other nationalities”, explains a 40 year old man Afghanistan, who has been staying in the centre for 10 months.
In collaboration with other actors, Caritas Greece also organises sessions on such diverse topics as education in Greece and Europe, Greek culture, cultural differences, the role of women in European societies, etc.
Maritina Koraki, Caritas Greece’s field coordinator in Lesbos, says that the teams has “a psychologist and a social worker who identify people in need and provide psychosocial support,” and adds that “people open up to our experienced staff, find relief, support and build trusting relationships. For our team it is heartwarming to empower people and see them being able to face their everyday difficulties”.
By Pilar Cuesta, Humanitarian aid officer at Caritas Europa
Note: A magnitude 6.4 earthquake hit southern Lesbos on Monday 12 June. The earthquake caused severe damages in the area. Caritas Greece is contributing to the emergency work. The earthquake has not affected the areas where the centres are located, and Caritas Greece is continuing to provide its services to the migrants and asylum seekers in the centres.