When the massive influx of refugees and migrants to the Greek islands started in 2015, Greece’s systems and procedures were not set up to cope with such a rapid increase. While UN agencies, international organisations and volunteers responded to immediate humanitarian needs in the camps, Greek reception authorities and asylum staff were working round the clock to process applications and making sure particularly vulnerable groups were getting the right services.
“We realised early on that we could play a part in building capacity in Greece to handle the influx and making sure reception and registration of the refugees and migrants were done in line with international standards,” says NORCAP Executive Director, Benedicte Giæver.
During this whole crisis, NORCAP has worked on responding to the emergency, both with operational, humanitarian support to people in the camps, but also through our strategic capacity building project in partnership with specific official institutions, such as the Reception and Identification Services (RIS), and the National Centre for Social Solidarity (EKKA).
In the beginning, the focus was on establishing reception centres, training staff on how to identify especially vulnerable people, and properly managing and coordinating camps and operational response.
Securing good practices
However, since 2019, NORCAP experts have focused on introducing good practices in the reception and identification service – including provision of legal advice on asylum procedures and contributing to ensuring that survivors of human trafficking receive the help and support they need.
This is done through the project “Capacity Development for dignified reception and protection of the rights of migrants and asylum seekers in Greece,”, implemented by NORCAP under the “Asylum and Migration” (Addressing urgent needs for the reception and screening of Asylum Seekers and for the Accommodation of Vulnerable Groups) programme of the EEA Grants.
“Our main role is to provide capacity building to the authorities. We do this through on-the-job training, by monitoring the work done by employees or by a certain service. We also provide legal advice on reception conditions and asylum procedures,” says NORCAP expert, Giorgos Papadimitriou.
“The standard procedures are important because they prevent arbitrariness and discrimination. For the asylum seekers, they also mean faster and fairer procedures of their applications,” adds NORCAP expert, Paolina Kara.
This is important in a system which currently has a backlog of more than 66.000 applications still waiting to be processed, claim the experts, who are both working as site management support advisers. Papadimitriou is based at the Eleonas site and Kara at the Schisto site on the Greek mainland.
Rewarding to ensure a just system
Another part of the experts’ job is to make sure refugees and migrants are properly received when they arrive on the islands and on the mainland. This is done by training and monitoring first-line reception personnel, working with them to find good strategies and tools to make the job easier.
“There is often lack of communication, given the cultural differences, and sometimes extreme behaviours, such as excessive emotional involvement or compassion fatigue. Another challenge is the well-established pre-existing procedures and ‘old-fashioned’ practices which staff find it difficult to be re-directed from,” says Paolina Kara.
Assessing these procedures and practices, as well as monitoring the staff, help NORCAP advisers gather valuable information about what needs amendments or improvements.
“The existing challenges have been reduced to a satisfactory level by focused interventions, such as giving immediate feedback to staff, organising meetings to discuss specific procedures or sharing detailed, written guidelines”, explains Kara.
For her, and the other experts working in the camps, it makes a big impact to see first-hand what proper reception means to the newly arrived refugees and migrants.
“While very challenging, it is also very rewarding when you see that you have contributed to a more just and non-discriminatory way of helping people,” Paolina Kara says.
Protection from human trafficking
Within such a large group of asylum seekers and migrants, there are also individuals and groups that for various reasons are especially vulnerable – children travelling alone, people with disabilities, people from the LGBTQI+ communities and survivors of human trafficking.
Since late 2018, NORCAP has supported the National Centre for Social Solidarity, and their newly established National Referral Mechanism for the protection of human trafficking survivors.
Being involved at an early stage gave NORCAP the opportunity to contribute in crucial fields, such as developing the tools and internal procedures of following-up on cases.
“Knowing that our contribution has been directed to a state function, has inspired us and boosted our confidence. Now, we know there is a long-term, sustainable plan on how to use the tools and procedures we develop”, says anti-trafficking expert, Angeliki Serafeim.
Training: key to identify survivors of trafficking
In addition to these features, a distinct part of NORCAP’s activities have been the trainings and workshops for first-line professionals.
In collaboration with the EKKA team, the experts have developed a comprehensive, nationally-focused training curriculum. It is not only theoretical, but also covers the practical aspects of detecting human trafficking signs, identifying presumed survivors victims and providing the protection services they are entitled to.
So far, more than 850 professionals from state and non-state actors have received the training, coming from agencies which either provide protection services, or may detect survivorsvictims of human trafficking: local and international NGOs, hospitals, Reception and Identification Service, Asylum Service, Labour Inspectorate, Community Centres, Municipality Social Services, Police, Coast Guard and counselling centres for women.
“We have received a lot of positive feedback which has given us the motivation needed to keep improving our material. The remote facilitation training we as experts received from NORCAP also gave us some fresh ideas and helped us upgrade the online seminars to become more inspiring and interactive,” Serafeim explains.
She highlights a particular case that demonstrates what a life-changing impact the work can have.
An adult man, who had been the victim of human trafficking as a child, had not been able to integrate into Greek society, because of his exploitation and the crimes he was forced to commit when he was trafficked.
“The man was referred to the National Referral Mechanism from a local NGO. Because he was undocumented, he had not been able to get a residence permit. As a result, he didn’t get access to his rights, like getting a job,” Angeliki Serafeim says.
Along with an EKKA officer, they shared their expertise and cooperated with a lawyer, a social worker and a psychologist to carry out the process needed for the man to be officially recognised as a survivor of human trafficking. Together they were able to get his case recognised by the prosecutor, which resulted in the survivor finally legalising his residency status, meaning full access to his rights.
“With the National Referral Mechanism getting the credit, it will be easier for them to cooperate with NGOs in future. Also, our involvement means our hosting agency recognises the need for keeping the legal expertise after the termination of our project, making it more sustainable in the long run,”, Serafeim concludes.