More than 14,000 refugees and asylum seekers currently live in Attica, with an additional 7,500+ in cities in the rest of Greece, as a part of the UN’s ESTIA housing program. Given the gradual allocation of housing responsibilities to local actors and the consequent need to link a national refugee integration strategy with corresponding local strategic plans, the initiative seeks to contribute positively to the planning and sustainability of relevant interventions. More specifically, since the initiative’s inception, 17 bilateral meetings have been held to map the needs of each municipality and collect data for defining a plan of action, which were firmed into draft guidelines during this workshop.
These new plans aim to encourage the employment of refugees, improve the transition of the refugee population from primary to secondary education, implement training programs for local government on the provision of services to migrants and refugees, as well as strengthen legal support and information. These guidelines will be used as the basis for future talks at the central and regional level.
Mayors Embrace Cities Network for Integration
Vasilis Labrinos, Mayor of Heraklion
"Thanks to the Mayors of Crete, the Regional Union of the Municipalities in Crete, the UNHCR, and the Development Unit of Heraklion, we have managed to host 535 of Crete’s total 807 refugees. We are proud to see happy families of refugees walking around the city, with young children going to school, building friendships, and enjoying life. We look forward to seeing the benefits the inclusion of Heraklion in the ‘Cities Network’ will bring, as we strongly believe that with dialogue and cooperation, we can not only serve as a positive example for others to follow, but also enhance our program to become even more successful."
Thomas Begas, Mayor of Ioannina
“We all know that the so-called ‘refugee issue’ has caught everyone off guard. And municipalities were disproportionally called upon for resources. But we took responsibility, and we did so successfully – but only with the help of the ‘Cities Network’,, which served as a catalyst for cooperation. I believe that, through the experience that we now have, we are ready to focus more on the smooth integration of refugees into local communities.”
Fotis Alexakos, Mayor of Karditsa
"The City of Karditsa has been implementing the UN’s ‘ESTIA’ refugee housing program since August 2017, in collaboration with the Development Unit of Karditsa. Today, 240 beneficiaries reside in 40 fully equipped rental apartments; by the end of 2018, Kardista will add an additional 10 units. Since the start of the program, the Integration Strategy has been considered a necessary addition in the existing housing services that are offered by the ESTIA program. The City of Karditsa believes that the exchange of information, experiences and good practices, as well as the design of a common plan for integration, in collaboration and in dialogue with other cities is a win-win solution for all.”
Apostolos Kalogiannis, Mayor of Larisa
"Since the very beginning, the City of Larisa has been an active participant in the refugee housing program. Today, an estimated 400 refugees are hosted in apartments in the city of Larisa, and right outside the city borders there is a refugee camp with an additional 1,500 people. Our experience from implementing this program is extremely positive, and the society of Larisa strongly supports every effort. Our Municipality, through its participation in the ‘Cities Network,’ continues with the same degree of excitement, to do what for us is self-explanatory: focusing our attention to all those in need, our compatriots and refugees."
Giota Poulou, Mayor of Livadia
"The local government, the closest institution to citizens, plays a central role in issues of strategy and management related to migrant and refugee issues. The ‘Cities Network for Integration’ is an important initiative envisioned by local governors—characterized by humanity and solidarity—who apply a different approach to refugees, proving that the municipalities can respond successfully. The successful implementation of the ESTIA program by the Municipalities defines the framework that should be used by the National Plan for the Management of the refugee crisis."
Aris Vasilopoulos, Mayor of New Philadelphia Attica
"In the evolving refugee and immigration crisis, the Municipalities owe and can make a decisive contribution to a sustainable planning for asylum seekers and refugees in our cities, both for their arrival and integration. We have embarked on a constructive dialogue, as it is an issue that concerns us all. United, we can respond to the challenges of our times.”
Yannis Moralis, Mayor of Piraeus
“One million refugees have passed through Piraeus since 2015. In 2016, 5,000 of them lived in a refugee camp in our harbor with the support of the local community and the Municipality. The City of Piraeus undertook the management of 50 apartments for refugees in cooperation with the UNHCR while at the same time putting the Refugee Integration Center within the Community Center of the Municipality. In response, we will continue to enrich the ‘Cities Network for Integration’ and the Municipality of Piraeus’ response.”
Dimitris Papastergiou, Mayor of Trikala
"Local government is working with citizens to stand with refugees in solidary through actions and initiatives, a network of development and support, volunteer support, and cooperation with institutions and the central administration. We have always prioritized refugee accommodation and we understand that respect for humanity is paramount to those of us in Trikala. Our active participation in the ‘Cities Network for the Integration’ strengthens our journey towards a more equitable, fair, and peaceful society, with no exceptions or conclusions.”
Dimitris Pavlis, Mayor of Tripoli
"We are proud of our Municipality’s decision to participate in the UN’s ESTIA refugee housing program. As we look to implement the program, we encourage inland municipalities to coordinate and submit proposals to the government. Throughout this process, the UNHCR’s expertise, the work of the Athens Coordination Center for Migrants and Refugees, and the ‘Cities Network for Integration’ are proving local governments know how to cooperate and succeed.”