JRS-Greece – Drawing close to refugees in Athens
We may tend to forget it, but Greece still hosts a large number of refugees. We have heard about the terrible situation in the camps on the island of Lesbos, which Pope Francis has already visited twice, but many refugees are living in the heart of the city of Athens. That is where the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) accompanies them. We met with Anna Kapralou, the director of JRS-Greece, and we also heard from the volunteers on her team. Their testimonies, which reflect their affection for the refugees, will be published in a future article. At present, the refugees are mostly Afghans and Africans, the latter coming especially from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon. More recently, Ukrainians are arriving in the country in increasing numbers.
Kapralou was born in Athens and is a social worker. She became involved with
JRS even before taking over as the country director. She is very pleased to
have the opportunity to work in a context where her profession and her faith
“I was very affected by the refugee crisis in Greece and also here in Athens. You could see hundreds of people sleeping on the ground in nearby Victoria Square and in many streets of the city. They are tired, desperate people. For me it was a calling. JRS in Greece is small; we can’t do much, but the little we do means a lot to the people we help. We are not in the camps, but we help people living in the city with their basic needs: paperwork, clothes, and hygiene products at the ‘magazi’ - food also sometimes. We also provide lessons and activities for the children.”
did not know about the Jesuits before joining JRS; she admires them for their
involvement with refugees and their advocacy on their behalf. More generally,
she recognises in the Jesuits many values she holds dear. What is she most
proud of? That they were able to help so many people during the long period of
the pandemic. Even during the lockdown, when public services were partly
paralyzed, teachers and facilitators were handing out educational materials,
organizing online activities, and responding to emergencies.
She is also very happy to be working with organisations in several other European countries that send volunteers. Four or five volunteers come at a time, spending six months to a year working with JRS; they show strong commitment to the families they meet. She is especially grateful for the support of the religious sisters, the Servants of the Holy Spirit: “Volunteers come and go, but the sisters provide stability; they are at the heart of the organisation,” she says.
JRS team is totally dedicated to serving the refugees, even though they must
work in a context that is bigger than they are. The challenge of welcoming and
accompanying refugees is not going to disappear. While Anna admits that it is
difficult to be optimistic, she hopes that the Greek government and the wider
society will become more open to what refugees can contribute to Greece and
will make more room for them. As a young Greek woman, she also hopes that
refugees will choose to integrate into Greek society, learn the language, and
enjoy the surrounding culture. For women in particular, integration will help
them to distance themselves psychologically from the tensions, exploitation,
and violence they experienced in their home countries and during their arduous
journey to Greece.
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