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Working Together for Local Integration of Migrants and Refugees in Athens

image of Working Together for Local Integration of Migrants and Refugees in Athens

Migrants, including native-born children with migrant parents, account for 23% of Athens’ population (664 046 people), while the number of refugees and asylum seekers has rapidly increased since 2015 and is currently estimated at 18 000. To respond to the refugee inflow, Athens developed bold and innovative initiatives, often beyond their direct responsibilities, and sought supra-national and non-state sources of funding (i.e. Stavros Niarchos Foundation, British American Tobacco, etc.). This emphasis on reception and integration of newcomers is the result of strong political will and cooperation with non-state actors, in line with the city's broader priorities since 2010 including anti-discrimination and improving equal access to social services. Integrating newcomers through jobs is particularly challenging given the high unemployment rate that Greece has experienced. In addition, newcomers often have the desire to continue their journey towards northern European countries, reducing their incentives to integrate and learn Greek.

While identifying various innovative practices, the OECD case study of Athens highlights the need for more reliable sources of financing and dialogue among levels of government. Data on migrant integration at the local level would support more evidence-based national, regional and local policy making.

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Introduction

The purpose of this case study is to present the structure and accessibility of existing services, initiatives and projects with regards to migrant integration in the Municipality of Athens. The case study highlights the different levels of government across which integration matters are dealt with and the room for manoeuvre that the municipality has to navigate these issues, in dialogue with local stakeholders (citizens, NGOs, migrant organisations, private sector, unions, etc.). It also identifies existing future difficulties and challenges and assesses possible solutions to those problems, along with highlighting best practices that could possibly be replicated elsewhere. Greece has recently been the theatre of an unprecedented refugee flow (as far as the country’s experience is concerned). When examining the Municipality of Athens it is important to take into account contextual factors that constitute the framework within which policies have been developed (or not) and within which proposed policies originating in the European/international experience could be implemented (or not). In the Greek case, four key elements are to be kept in mind: the limited past experience in dealing with migrant integration issues, the 2015-16 peak of refugee arrivals, the economic and social crisis and the centralised nature of the Greek public governance. The convergence of these factors contributed to a context of multi-faceted crisis within which authorities – such as the Municipality of Athens – had to respond swiftly without necessarily having the institutional and/or financial background to do so. Nevertheless, the Municipality stepped in to deal with the recent inflows of refugees and asylum seekers and bolster vulnerable communities (long-standing migrants included).

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