Eszter Kovacs and Kavita Ramakrishnan
Our fieldwork in Athens continues to reveal how a city copes with both austerity and the politics of refugee accommodation in the wider sense. Questions abound amongst municipal actors and local groups on how best to ‘integrate’ refugees with limited funding: what needs should be prioritized and how does one conceive of the longer-term in a complex political and economic climate? While collaboration between the municipality and grassroots organizations exists, particularly through the innovative Athens Coordination Center for Migrant and Refugee issues (ACCMR), there are also divisions over facilitating refugees’ transition to ‘independent’ living and ensuring individuals who have stayed in camps since arriving in Greece are able to fully ‘integrate’ into Greek society. For many volunteers who were involved in food and clothing distributions on the Greek islands and in Athens over the past two and a half years, these continued efforts no longer make sense and key donors abroad express fatigue at sending funds to cover the day-to-day survival of refugees; volunteers themselves express frustration at the limitedness of their interventions and seek more holistic ways of designing and implementing refugee-centered projects.
Hence, volunteer collectives and NGOs are increasingly experimenting with social enterprise ideas – from building a self-sustaining long-term women’s shelter to organizing a print-screen collective to running a trade skills development center – which very much speak to the broader discourses.
Thus, each time we visit Athens, we are struck by the rapidly changing tone and innovation of grassroots interventions, the EU-level shifts in funding mechanisms for NGOs, and where the municipality situates itself amidst all of this — alongside the very prevalent street-level homelessness (of both refugees and local Greeks), refugees who fall ‘off-the-grid’ so to speak due to protracted uncertainty, and those refugees who are slowly accepting that Greece is their new home.