Throughout Europe, there are various shelters and initiatives that take care of these young refugees. One of them is the House2 project in Athens, supported through the EEA and Norway Grants, that accommodates twelve unaccompanied boys between 6 -12 years old, and two underage mothers with their children. Eirini Chazapi is a project manager at House2. She shares her story with us.
'The project is called ‘House2’, because it functions as a second home for these minors. It’s a (temporary) replacement to their first home, which they were forced to leave – or to which they are on their way. In some cases, this road has lasted for years.'
Eirini Chazapi - project manager at House2
- First of all, can you tell us something about yourself and your work?
‘Yes, I am Eirini. I grew up here in Athens, Greece, and I’ve been working with socially vulnerable groups for almost 20 years. I believe that every person should be free to build their own life and make their own choices. And that requires a safe environment, and that’s what we work for with House2. We go back to the basics, offering young unaccompanied children a bed, a room, food, toys, support, family: a home. We empower and support them for their next steps.’
House2 is a long-term shelter for unaccompanied minors, operated by the Society for the Care of Minors and Youth (SMAN) in Greece. The project is funded by the EEA and Norway Grants, under the Asylum and Migration Programme, which addresses the urgent needs for the reception and screening of asylum seekers and for the accommodation of vulnerable groups.
- What else can you tell us about House2?
‘Our main goal is to protect minors and youngsters who are in danger and in a state of emergency, regardless of their origin, religious beliefs or sexual orientation. They are staying with us until their papers are ready, so they can continue their travel. The project is called ‘House2’, because it functions as a second home for these minors. It’s a (temporary) replacement to their first home, which they were forced to leave – or to which they are on their way. In some cases, this road has lasted for years.'
The house accommodates twelve unaccompanied boys between 6 -12 years old, and two underage mothers with their children. Its aim is to offer them everything they need to grow and prosper, and to become autonomous citizens. To do so, they are working with a project team of caretakers, the Child Protection Team and all other relevant social workers, psychologists, and lawyers.
- How is House2 different from other shelters?
‘We support children through a family model, running the shelter in the same way we would run our own households: we care. You can see that in the furniture in the house, the tiles, the walls. Our project team consists of people with different educational backgrounds: we are looking for other criteria than the classic university degree. We highly appreciate empathy, the ability to care, to smile, to solve problems and form real connections. I think proof of that is the fact that one of the most valuable members of our project team has been a caretaker, a young boy who is 20 years old, who has been an unaccompanied minor himself. And it’s not only the team members, but the volunteers as well: there are grandmothers of 80 years old, as well as teenagers who are volunteering and helping the project team.’
Caring for the most vulnerable among the vulnerable
There’s a direct need for long-term shelters like these. According to the Greek National Centre for Social Solidarity “EKKA”, there are 150 children under 14, who are living in temporary accommodation structures in camps and identification centres. 123 of them are boys and 27 girls. In addition, 90 unaccompanied girls between 14-18 years old are waiting to be transferred to improved long term facilities. Some of them are underage mothers. House2 is working to solve this situation.
‘Throughout Greece, there are only 8 accommodation shelters with a capacity of 175 people for girls, and 5 shelters for a maximum of 75 young boys and girls (under 12 years old). Only one of those shelters is in Athens. There is a very urgent need for more flexible accommodation modalities of small capacity in order to support the most vulnerable population of children amongst the UAMs. These children are among the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. They are very likely to have witnessed extreme violence and have often been victims of exploitation. protecting them from the risks they face in refugee camps, by providing safe accommodation is a first requirement.’
Looking toward a better future
While the team is taking care of the current inhabitants of House2, they’re continuously making plans for the future as well.
‘The most important plan is to subscribe to the register of the shelters and NGOs in Greece, to provide the financial and administrative sustainability of our project. Now, we can focus on our plan to continue our networking and community engagement, and to provide our children with more options when it comes to social and educational activities. Although we are a shelter for unaccompanied minors, asylum seekers, we are facing the fact that there are children that do not have a place or a family in Europe to go to. We need to establish more options for them, like foster families or other shelter suitable to support them. This will be another one of our focus points.’
Changing lives, one by one
In the end, it’s the individual stories that truly show the impact of a safe environment like House2. Like for instance that of an 18-year old mother with her 4-year old daughter. After staying at the PIKPA structure in Lesbos, she found a more permanent home in House2. This empowered her to turn her life around, finding time and space to pursue her passion: painting and sketching. Right now, she contributes to the homey feel of the House, by decorating its walls with her paintings, expressing her art, optimism and hope for the future.
About the project
HOUSE2 is a project operated by the Society for the Care of Minors and Youth (SMAN). It aims to establish a new long term Accommodation Center for 16 Unaccompanied Minors, UAMs, in the city of Athens. By definition UAMs are in a state of particular vulnerability due to their age, separation from parents and home. They have been exposed to risks and quite often have witnessed extreme violence and have been victims of exploitation.
In one year, and the year of lockdown of COVID-19, the house has provided care for 27 children. The organisation has cooperated with more than 12 public and private stakeholders and with 9 volunteers. The project has been acknowledged and honored with a visit of her Excellency the President of the Hellenic Republic Katerina Sakellaropoulou.
Learn more about this project here.