Action from Switzerland’s third annual General Assembly took place Thursday, March 1st, at the Viadukt and the evening was generously sponsored by Impact Hub, the International Beer Bar and the British Cheese Centre. The evening started with an informal apero as participants mingled and had the opportunity to purchase handmade soap donated by Patrizia Pedrazzini, #MakeItSafe campaign wristbands and beautiful painted postcards, created by one of the refugee women from the Athena Centre in Chios. The assembly then began with a presentation of our achievements and challenges in 2017, followed by our plans for 2018 and general volunteering opportunities. Participants were encouraged to share their ideas on how AfS could improve and develop further, as well as messages for the women in Chios.
2017 challenges and achievements
As the world’s focus has shifted away from the refugee crisis, the situation has continued to deteriorate for refugees seeking asylum in Europe. In 2017 the closure of European borders to refugees continued and the EU-Turkey deal came into effect. These changes mean that the approximately 1500 refugees currently on the Greek island of Chios now face not only days on the island as they await asylum, but months. This coincided with the departure of several non-profit organizations from the island, leaving the remaining refugees with less assistance than before.
In addition, the refugee camp was moved away from the city centre, making it difficult for the women to reach our Athena Centre. In response, AfS started a women-only bus service operating between the camp and the Centre, giving the women a safe means of reaching the city. This was an unexpected cost which, thanks to a strong response to our crowdfunding campaign, we were able to cover until March 2018. As the future remains uncertain for the refugees, there continues to be a great need for the Centre.
During the 18 months that we have been open we have supported over 890 women, recorded over 7800 visits and documented 189 cases of sexual, gender-based violence. These women have benefited from psychological support, legal consultation and translation assistance at hospitals. They also enjoy language, yoga, zumba, self-defence and sexual-health classes. The Centre is funded entirely by our wonderful donors.
Looking forward to 2018
As much as the women face hardship on the island of Chios, life continues to be challenging even if they are granted asylum in Greece. With no work, permanent housing or language skills, how can these women successfully integrate into Greek society? This is why in April 2018 we will open our second centre/shelter in Athens called the Halcyon Days Project. It will accommodate 15 women on a long-term basis, and provide them (as well as non-resident female refugees and vulnerable Greek women) with intensive Greek, English and computer classes. They will also receive vocational training to help them transition from camp life back into society and give them opportunities to utilise their skills and talents through entrepreneurship. The project will cost approximately 8000 euros per month and will offer the same additional support services as the Athena Centre in Chios (access to medical, psychological and legal aid with translator assistance).
However, there has been waning interest from the mainstream media to cover refugee-related news. They no longer report about new arrivals on the islands and for the most part the refugee crisis has disappeared from their narrative, giving the impression that it has stabilised or been resolved. As a consequence, it is difficult for organisations on the ground to emphasise that the crisis is still very much alive and that the plight of our displaced friends, still confined in detention hotspots all around the Aegean islands, is real. AfS, along with other grassroot organisations, is experiencing donor fatigue which is a substantial threat to our projects.
Taking into account these external factors, it has been extremely challenging for grassroots to sustain ourselves. Though our Halcyon Days project in Athens is a much needed response to the next phase of the refugee crisis – building skills, networks and stability in a new home – awareness and fundraising have proven to be intensely challenging.
These challenges have taught us to focus on ensuring long-term sustainability and growth, particularly financially. Thanks to a powerful response from the public to our urgent call for the women-only bus service in October 2017 we were able to raise funds for 6 months of private transportation, and regular donations from our loyal donor base are critical for our day-to-day operational stability. As we expand our scope, we continue to rely on this generosity and look forward to the continual support of our donors to ensure that our grassroots operations can continue to flourish. If you are interested in becoming a core sponsor of AfS, please reach out to our fundraising manager email@example.com to inquire about our Action30 program.
A big thank you to everyone who braved the cold and snow to attend our event, and for those who have supported our activities throughout the years with your generous donations. A particular thank you to our sponsors Impact Hub, the International Beer Bar and the British Cheese Centre. We look forward to opening our new centre in Athens and continuing to support and empower the women in Chios. Please continue to follow our work through Facebook and our newsletter.