Host Societies, Hospitable Societies

By Elena Chalari & Nadir Noori

The challenge of real integration on multiple levels for refugees, immigrants and minorities in Greek reality is not a new experience, no matter how frequently it might be presented this way.

The newcomers –“nomads” fleeing from Syrian civil war- are the hottest recent news, but it’s not the only example. During the last decades, the instability that took over Afghanistan, due to Soviet-friendly regimes coming to power and the Taliban movement prevailing, caused a refugee wave, moving towards Greece, among other countries.

Therefore, integration in the course of history has been one of the greatest debates related to the refugee crisis, regarding both migrant populations and host countries/societies. But what do we actually mean by “integration”? Can its meaning be limited to a definition or is it much more than that?

Four refugees/immigrants from Afghanistan, that have lived and worked in Greece for the last years, expressed their views on the subject. They talked to us about what “integration” means to them, about the difficulties they had (or still have) in their effort to integrate, and suggest solutions for the improvement of the situation; they also express their wishes and advice on how to survive for the newcomers.

For “H.” the first step towards integration is legalisation. From his point of view, it is necessary to have the relevant documentation, so that you can feel safe and not to need to hide or turn to illegal and immoral methods in order to earn a living.

Although he has lived in Greece for 9 years, he doesn’t feel integrated. The uncertainty regarding the renewal of the residence permit, but also the bureaucratic structure of the system, don’t allow him to organise his life here. He lives in a constant present, for “tomorrow” isn’t granted for him.

His answer to our question about how an improvement could be achieved in integration issues, “H.” sais that respecting the freedom of speech and human rights should be a condition for acieving real social integration, while a mutual will to live together in peace and safety is also considered important.

For migrant populations to be able to integrate, there has to be, first of all, a substantial financial support and care and, secondly, opportunities for professional or vocational training. Mixed educational and artistic –let’s not forget that art brings people together- activities, bring about a direct contact between locals and immigrants in a way that their acquaintance is deeper and substantial and the cultural “gap” between them is, thus, bridged.

Advice for newcomers: Be aware of where they are, so that they can become familiar with the mentality more easily.

Wish: That everybody could be safe. Live happily with their loved ones, with a better life ahead, away from dangers.

J.” , who has lived and worked in Greece for approximately 11 years, believes that a refugee’s or immigrant’s integration in the host society is not limited to holding the necessary documentation of residence permit and speaking the language. On the contrary, it is a process that takes place among friends and people hanging out together and in neighbourhoods. The attitude of the host country, whether it is ready or willing to accept new members, determines to a great extent the result.

“J.”, having been a refugee from the day he was born –of Afghan origin, born in Iran, where he was never granted the necessary documentation-, has experienced racism and discrimination. To this day he hasn’t felt belonging anywhere. Now the way he feels is rather “adapted”, not integrated.

For the integration conditions to change, “J.” considers both sides have to learn the basics: the host society should get to know more about the background of the people it is going to receive, while refugees/immigrants should learn about the mentality and the attitude of the people of the country they are going to.

Advice for newcomers: Learn the language and understand the culture of the country of reception. Try to really get to know Greek society.

Wish: That there were no refugees, that it were peaceful everywhere. That there were no place on Earth with this killing.

Kazim, the President of the Afghan community, sais that integration starts by learning the language and getting in touch with the cultural features of the new “home”, and adds that integration should include all facets of modern life. In order to integrate in a new environment, it is important to realise the values and principles that apply in it. “You are integrated when in this (environment) you find yourself, when you live as if you were a common citizen”.

“I have lived in Greece for more than 15 years, I have studied here, I have a good grasp of the language and I socialise with Greeks, I can understand the existing situation her… I feel integrated.”

As Kazim mentioned, the difficulty of integration stems from the lack of a clear immigration policy and, therefore, of employment and education opportunities. The problems of obtaining the nationality and of recognition, the issue of “family reunion”, the non enforcement of the law and the lack of political will are some more obstacles.

“When we don’t enforce the law, we don’t respect democracy and human beings”. Thus, the solution suggested by Kazim is, on the one hand, enforce the law on refugees and, on the other, promote respect and solidarity.

Advice for newcomers: Learn the language and realise where they are, what it means to live in Greece. “Feel” the civilisation and the culture. Don’t be narrow-minded and adjust to the new conditions, seek learning.

Wish: A clear integration policy, programming and mutual will to achieve the goal. Those who want to become integrated should be open and the host society should embrace them.

Finally, we also talked to “N.”. He has lived, worked and studied in Greece for the last two years and a half. For him, integration is to feel as a part of the group. It is a different process for each person, it depends on the stages each one shall go through and the difficulties he/she shall have to face in the meanwhile until he/she becomes a “normal” citizen.

“A job doesn’t make you a “member” of the society.” In order to become an intrinsic part of the host society, you have to be able to exercise your rights just like the other citizens.

Advice for newcomers: Go for the best possible outcome.

Wish: The refugee crisis would stop and everybody were able to go back home.

It becomes quite clear that integration as a concept and as a process can be interpreted, expressed and experienced in many different ways by different people. However, its basis is always the yearning for peace and creation, the need and hope for a new start…

The original story was written for Inclumedia Lab & published at (02/04/17).

Photo Credits: NNF