How to Improve the Refugee Crisis in Greece

By David Cotton, Christianson Grant Recipient

As millions flee war and famine across northern Africa and the Middle East, many pass through Greece. Three issues, in particular, illustrate the severity of the refugee crisis here.

#1: There is a high barrier to entry into the workforce for refugees.

Greece's employment market is in shambles for everyone, but particularly refugees who fight stereotypes that they're "job takers."

#2: Space for refugees to retain and share culture is insufficient.

This inhibits cross-cultural understanding and integration.

#3: Refugees are often perceived as negatively affecting tourism.

Many in the tourism industry in Greece are concerned that the refugee crisis will dissuade visitors. Rhodes Island, a major destination for European tourists, recently relegated refugees to a deserted area with inhumane conditions, far from vacationers.

Here's how Project Layali, a bold social enterprise initiative, is striving to improve the plight of refugees in Greece.

#1: There is a high barrier to entry into the workforce for refugees.

Greece's employment market is in shambles for everyone, but particularly refugees who fight stereotypes that they're "job takers."

#2: Space for refugees to retain and share culture is insufficient.

This inhibits cross-cultural understanding and integration.

#3: Refugees are often perceived as negatively affecting tourism.

Many in the tourism industry in Greece are concerned that the refugee crisis will dissuade visitors. Rhodes Island, a major destination for European tourists, recently relegated refugees to a deserted area with inhumane conditions, far from vacationers.

Here's how Project Layali, a bold social enterprise initiative, is striving to improve the plight of refugees in Greece.

Project Layali is an ambitious venture to address employment and integration challenges facing refugees in Greece. With the support of an InterExchange Foundation Christianson Grant, I'm spending one year in Athens working with the locally run NGO Za'atar to launch the social enterprise.

Za'atar currently runs the refugee shelter and community center Orange House, where I spent six months volunteering in 2017. I'm excited to be back in Athens helping to improve conditions for refugees and foster cross-cultural understanding.

Layali will provide jobs and employment training to refugees who plan to remain in Athens, permanently. Through operating a café, boutique hotel, and cultural event space, the project aims to create an integrated workforce, increase opportunities for refugees to work in the tourism industry, and help create connections and cross-cultural understanding between locals and refugees.

Integrating the workforce & increasing employment opportunities

Layali's goal is to employ both local Greeks and refugees at its social enterprise. Greeks and refugees working side-by-side will help build connections and fight stereotypes that refugees are "job takers."

Layali will also partner with hotels interested in hiring refugee graduates from our hospitality job-training program.

Both the internal integrated workforce and external apprenticeship program will help break down the barriers and stereotypes that stand in the way of refugees gaining employment and integrating into Greek culture.

tourists in Greece

Tourists in Greece. Image courtesy of Pixabay

Creating a space for cross-cultural exchange

While Za'atar's Orange House allows refugees to celebrate and maintain their culture, it doesn’t enable refugees to share their culture with others. Due to its function as a residence, Orange House must remain private.

refugee youth at Orange House

Refugee youth at Orange House. Image courtesy of David C.

Project Layali will build upon the successes of Orange House by building a public space to share and spread the joys of Arabic, Farsi, and African culture. It will be a place to screen films, hold lectures, enroll in classes, sing, and dance.

Initial steps in building a non-profit social enterprise

The founders of Za'atar and I have began location scouting for Project Layali and visited two vacant buildings in Athens. Upcoming projects include additional location scouting, completing the paperwork with our Greek lawyer leading to the formation of the new entity, and grant writing in hopes of raising additional funds.

Refugees are human beings

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Project Layali is unquestionably bold and while this bold nature presents numerous challenges, it also presents extensive opportunities to increase cross-cultural understanding among native Greeks and Athens' refugee population.

David Cotton David Cotton

David volunteered in Greece with the help of a Christianson Grant, from the InterExchange Foundation.

U.S. Department of State-Designated J-1 Visa Sponsor
Alliance for International Exchange
Exclusive partner of the Erasmus Student Network for J-1 Visa sponsorship of internships in the U.S.
European-American Chamber of Commerce New York
Generation Study Abroad
Global Ties U.S.
International Au Pair Association
WYSE Travel Confederation