Refugees take first steps toward integration in Greece


By Dora Vangi, CARE Greece

One of the biggest obstacles refugees and asylum seekers face in their daily lives in Greece is the language barrier. Not being able to communicate with local people creates major problems in their integration and interaction with Greek authorities and public services.  

The European Commission's Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department is providing funding to CARE to bridge this gap by supporting and guiding refugees in Athens, helping them navigate complicated national bureaucratic procedures and obtain much needed documentation, like social security and tax registration numbers as well as to understand their labor and social rights and obligations. 

Many of us are familiar with the complexity of bureaucratic procedures in foreign countries. As European citizens, we enjoy the advantage of being able to choose another country to study, work and live. Many Europeans understand how challenging and stressful it can be completing tasks as simple as obtaining a document or opening a bank account in a foreign country. Yet, in these cases, we choose to make this new start and we probably choose a country where we can somehow communicate on our own. Still, navigating through a foreign country’s bureaucracy is often quite painful. Can you imagine how challenging all these procedures can be for refugees in Greece?  

Sitting in a corner inside Almasar Center, where the CARE team in Athens is helping refugees deal with paperwork and documentation, I'm thinking about how difficult it must be for a foreigner who does not speak the language to overcome various bureaucratic obstacles. For me, as a Greek citizen, it has always been a nightmare maneuvering through the maze of accountants and tax advisors.  

“Is this where I can be issued AMKA and AFM?”  

My thoughts are interrupted by a young man who silently enters Almasar Center.  

AMKA is the Greek abbreviation for the social security number and AFM is the abbreviation for the tax registration number. The young man is Syrian. He must be around 25 years old. His eyes are trying to find the Arabic speaker among the group present in the room.  

“Welcome my friend. You can acquire AMKA and AFM only in the corresponding public services but here we can help you to prepare your documents beforehand and we will also accompany you to assist you with translation," says Said, a CARE integration officer who speaks Greek and Arabic. The young man smiles and approaches Said’s desk to start the procedure.  

The young man holds numerous papers. Everything is in Greek. Said starts arranging the papers, placing them on his desk in order, taking those needed for registration. Then, he patiently starts to explain to the young man the usefulness of each document and what AMKA and AFM stand for. 

AMKA and AFM numbers are essential to refugees for many reasons; without those two numbers refugees cannot visit a public hospital or receive prescription medicine. They also can't work legally in the country or benefit from the national social welfare system or receive support from programs like the Social Solidarity Income. 

“CARE is assisting refugees to acquire essential national documentation. This service is vital not only for refugees though, but also for a series of public authorities in Greece. Not being able to communicate is a stressful situation for both the refugee and the public employee who cannot explain the national procedures to the refugee”, says Anastasia Georgiou, the Integration Manager of CARE in Greece. “In collaboration with the national public authorities, within just one month since the start of this program, CARE has assisted more than 150 refugees and asylum seekers by providing valuable information in their own languages regarding their labor and social rights”.  

More than 30,000 refugees will stay in Greece and bureaucratic integration is a first step to start a new life in a new country – but it is only one of the many steps that refugees have to take. As a Syrian friend told me the same day I visited Almasar Center: “Job is the most important thing for us. We need to feel useful again. Useful for ourselves and useful for Greece because this society, this is our new home”.  

By assisting refugees apply for AMKA and AFM, CARE is there to support refugees in the first step towards integration as well as the many steps that follow.