Walking through Athens to Exarcheia, on a sunny morning, felt like going home, already. It is the neighbourhood where I spent my first nights in Athens, some few years ago, which streets’ shops and graffiti, signs and ruins I always make sure to go back to and have learnt to know by heart, with time. Which urban bursts and rhythm I follow as an old friend, feel within, somewhere between my heart, bone and flesh.
I had never passed by those streets, though, nor pushed the door of that old building. I had never heard of nor met Synyparxis’ work and team and – yet. Getting there was like coming home, again. There were the coffee and biscuits on the table, for sure – but it was more than that. Something that I would locate between all of their eyes and smiles – which, throughout the conversation, would more often than not, turn, into a contagious laughter. Something in the air, on the walls – pictures of collective excursions, adventures, celebrations ; drawings of children. Shared dreams and memories. Discovering Synyparxis felt like entering a huge family.
Improving the situation for migrants
Founded as a non-profit organization of the Church of Greece in 2012, Synyparxis-Ecumenical Refugee Program had been operating as an internal project since 1978, first aimed at assisting returning Greek migrants from Western Europe.
Ten years later, it started expanding its mission to include foreign immigrants, asylum-seekers and refugees. Now an autonomous organization ran under the supervision of Reverend Archimandrite Panteleimon Papasynefakis, General Director, and Despoina Georgiadou, Director of the Programme, with whom I got the chance to sit down for a great discussion, Synyparxis “aims at contributing to the improvement of the situation of migrants, refugee and asylum-seekers in Greece through legal and psycho-social support services, research, advocacy and collaboration with immigrant communities, information and awareness activities ; it also aims at informing the Church of Greece on critical issues relating to migration and integration of migrants in Greece.”
Running 6 child protection shelters
Synyparxis has built a strong expertise on legal support regarding both asylum and family reunification procedures and human rights’ defense and protection throughout the years. 2020 marked the opening of a new chapter of the organization’s history, which has been undertaking child protection services through the launching and running of no less than six shelters for unaccompanied minors in three years. Five in the Attiki region, one in Thessalonique, they enable to accommodate some two hundred kids, supported by a total of one hundred and fifty employees working 24/7 to insure their hosting and educative, legal and psychological care.
An ambitious project ran with limited funding, Synyparxis Ecumenical Refugee Programme can rely on some long-term partnerships with international organizations and states such as Switzerland, funding summer camps and specialized psychological support for both kids and employees, or the Netherlands, which aid allows for the hiring of nurses and pediatricians.