For the half a million displaced Syrians who survived perilous journeys to reach the safely of Greek shores, many challenges lie ahead.
Though protection status secures their safety from violent harm, difficulties lie ahead. Chiefly, the challenge of earning a sustainable income.
Without a way to earn money, asylum seekers are dependent on local communities.
To facilitate integration, then, requires housing, education, health services, social services, as well as linguistic and cultural facilities; all of which starts with employment.
That’s according to RefuAid, a United Kingdom-based NGO with a unique model for providing refugees with monetary support:
“In our program, the support is given fully for the first two years, then we reduce financial support [by 25 percent] over the next three years, and the families know that at the end of the five years they are fully responsible for everything themselves,” explained RefuAid co-founder, Anna Jones. The weaning of funds reflects the hope that by the end of the support period, most people will be in employment.
The RefuAid model has been hailed as an alternative to cash assistance programmes which, though they are sustainable, fail to recognise the fact that most refugees would prefer to work.
Jones believes that programmes fail to provide refugees with a sense of dignity and purpose: “The people arriving in Greece are highly skilled, well educated, and have attributes of resilience. They’re hardworking, and that can be used and harnessed, and it’s just not.”
For RefuAid, practical support for day-to-day living works best when it is provided alongside access to services. Their approach is holistic: emphasising the importance of a broad range of support – housing, schooling, medical services, language lessons, social work, employment – which can be easily accessed.
Jones says that one of the most important factors informing integration has been discussions with refugees and local communities.
The organisation’s programmes aim to bring what refugees want and need together with what locals say works best for them. This inclusive, collaborative ethos has ultimately ensured that projects have a higher impact:
“When you have a local community group responsible for housing, they think about it naturally from a more community-based approach. So there’s naturally more integration because they’re from there and they care about people learning the language and people getting jobs in their community,” Jones explained.
So, what’s Jones’ advice for other practioners in the field?
“Stop with the paperwork, put a pause on worrying about everything, and look at how awful and tragic this situation is. Start listening to the people who live there as refugees, get the money there, and just build something from within the community.”