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The Syrian Refugee Crisis: Helping Refugees Acclimate to Their New Lives

How UUSC's partners are working with refugees to support self-sufficiency and dismantle anti-migrant narratives.

By Michael Kourabas on November 19, 2019

Part 2 of 2 – read part 1 here

One of the most important goals of many of our partners is to dismantle the false narratives about refugees, portraying them not as threats or mere passive recipients of aid, but as kind, hardworking, and resilient people. In Greece, our partner the Greek Forum of Refugees (GFR) advances this goal by helping refugee communities self-organize, supporting them with job and language training, and advocating for them on the national level.

GFR’s model is to help establish, partner with, and support the work of small associations of refugees, organized by country of origin. When I was in Athens in October 2019, I met with several representatives from the Afghan Community of Refugees and Migrants in Greece (ACRMG), one of GFR’s local partners. The story of Mina, the vice president of the ACRGM Board, stood out as a powerful example of how little truth the anti-migrant narrative holds.

Mina and her family are refugees from Afghanistan, and they have lived at Camp Eleonas, a refugee camp on the outskirts of Athens, since March 2016. In addition to the organizing work she does for ACRMG, Mina and her husband, Hussein, run a small food delivery business from their home. Each day, they cook in their tiny kitchen for dozens of organizations and nonprofits in Athens, including Doctors Without Borders and Caritas, as well as Afghan-owned businesses and restaurants. Hussein delivers the food himself, riding his bike the more than 20 kilometers (more than 12 miles) it takes him to reach his daily customers. To get their eight-year-old daughter to school, Mina takes two buses and an Uber, which uses all of their money and most of Mina’s time—a problem, because she is the primary chef for the business. Yet, Mina has little choice as the Greek government has cut off school bus service to and from the refugee camps.

Mina’s family initially fled Afghanistan for Iran, where they faced discrimination common against the Afghan community there. After Iran, they applied for asylum in Greece, but their case remains in limbo. Unlike many refugees for whom Greece is but one stop on their journey, Mina and her family want a permanent life there. They want to start a restaurant. Mina, a teacher in Afghanistan, wants to get her Master’s degree. “This isn’t the life we would have chosen, but we are trying to make the best of it,” Mina told me. Both she and Hussein are hopeful for what their future might bring, but they remain grounded in community, planning to employ other refugees when their business takes off. Sharing an Afghan saying, Hussein explained, “Your table cloth should be spread wide.” Organizations like GFR and ACRMG offer people like Mina and Hussein the opportunity to share their story and connect with others facing similar challenges, helping build collective power and hope to rebuild new lives.

Photo Credit: Michael Kourabas

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About UUSC: Guided by the belief that all people have inherent worth and dignity, UUSC advances human rights globally by partnering with affected communities who are confronting injustice, mobilizing to challenge oppressive systems, and inspiring and sustaining spiritually grounded activism for justice. We invite you to join us in this journey toward realizing a better future!

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