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Integration of immigrants is a guarantee for security

28 May 2013 / 21:05:02  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

The difficulties related to the integration of immigrants are not only a Greek problem as proven by the events of a few days ago in the United Kingdom and Sweden. Even immigrants who have been living in a certain place for years feel separated from the local community and often notice the suspicious eyes of their neighbours.

In early March, the municipalities of Athens and Thessaloniki decided to bring together the people who live next door but do not know anything about each other. They organized various activities related to everyday life and culture, which aimed to achieve harmonious coexistence locally in the neighbourhoods and smooth integration of immigrants into Greek society. The activities took place within the context of the "Activities in the neighbourhoods" programme, which is co-financed by the European Fund for Integration (75%) and state funds (25%).

"The activities started at the end of February. We held workshops in three cycles: environment, culture and radio. A total of 35 workshops were held in seven neighbourhoods of Athens, where the concentration of immigrants is the highest. We talked and exchanged experiences on topics such as how to make a garden on the balcony or on the roof of the buildings, how to turn organic waste into fertilizers, we made various applications with recycled materials, altered old clothes and learnt not only how to use our bicycles but also how to mend them. The cultural programme included gastronomy, music, dance, history of different countries as well as workshops on how to become "reporters" in our neighbourhood," deputy person in charge of the programme Maria Tsanaka told GRReporter.

The aim has always been the same, namely "to enable neighbours - Greeks and immigrants - to meet and get to know each other. Trying to do things together and to learn simple everyday things from one another gives rise to a lot of positive feelings."

An interesting detail is that the programme took place in a comparative lack of negativity. "There were only two such cases but I would define them as insignificant, although the participants took offence in one of them and the meeting failed. Overall, I would not say that we had any problems because the atmosphere was very positive. I think we all understand that programmes like this are in favour of the security of citizens. When we know each other, we trust each other. This is a very important prerequisite for the security of the inhabitants of large cities."

The participation of immigrants played a leading role in implementing the programme. "We are actively participating in the programme and in gastronomy and music workshops in particular. The communities of immigrants from Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Afghanistan were together with us as well as the Women's Union of Africa – the Union of Women from Nigeria. We will take part in the final events that will take place on 12 June.

I think it is important for immigrants to actively participate in programmes that are financed by the Integration Fund of the Ministry of Interior. They are intended especially for them and I would say that immigrant communities are actively participating in such programmes for the first time. This is so because they involve the municipalities of Athens and Thessaloniki. The activities of the private organizations are also good but this time, the stakes were much higher," states Nikodimos Maina Kiniua from the African organization Asante.

According to him, these programmes are not the best way for the integration of immigrants but they certainly help towards it. "Both the immigrants and the state must continue the efforts to achieve harmonious coexistence."

Nikodimos also said that, at present, immigrants fear racist attacks against them. "They also understand that they can offer a lot in all areas, provided that the central government creates a legal framework that does not exclude them from public life but integrates them in it. The best advertisement for a country is the fact that the immigrants are not threatened and are able to move freely in the streets. This is because even if all the other things have been done, the picture of battered immigrant victims of fascist and neo-Nazi organizations spoil the picture of Greece."

Six celebrations will be held in Athens and Thessaloniki from 1 to 12 June, which will present the results of the workshops. Due to the success of the programme, the municipal authorities in Athens are planning to include it in the cultural programme of the following year.

Tags: SocietyImmigrantsIntegrationActivities in the neighbourhoods programmeMunicipalitiesAthensThessaloniki
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