Visit to Athens Migrant Integration Centre

The long-awaited workshop in Athens took place in November 2021, with city official colleagues from Cluj-Napoca (Romania), Stockholm (Sweden) and MigrationWork joining the Athens team for three days of visits, talks and lively discussions, set against a backdrop of dramatic hills and classical monuments.

The primary aim of the CONNECTION workshop was to visit Athens’ Migrant Integration Centre (MIC), a model ‘One Stop Shop’ which sits within a community centre in the Metaxourgeio region of Athens, offering a range of services to migrants including legal advice, education, social services and referrals to other specialists. All members of our CONNECTION Community of Practice (including Dortmund, who were sadly unable to join us), are establishing their own ‘One Stop Shop’ – the area of focus for our group within the CONNECTION project. As such, our key concern for the trip was to learn from Athens about how to set up a successful One Stop Shop: what are the secrets for success, and what can we learn from the challenges that Athens has faced and overcome?

Athens’ Migrant Integration Centre first opened its front desk services in 2017 to meet the needs of the high migration flows which passed through the city. Now, it faces high demand for its services and acts as a central hub of the city’s migrant support services. The team at the centre cited teamwork; a culture of respect and solidarity; and the team members’ ability to ‘multi-task’ as being some of their ‘secrets of success’. The warm and welcoming team spirit was palpable, and everyone from the door staff to the lawyers all work together to make the process as efficient as possible for the centre’s visitors.

The visiting group was particularly struck by the Athens Coordination Centre for Migrants and Refugees (ACCMR), an online platform that was born out of the MIC. It maps all of the migrant support services, events and initiatives taking place across the city. This platform is maintained with up to date information by a full-time member of staff, who keeps in touch with all the service providers across the city – this is the key to its relevance and effectiveness. Digital services and platforms have become particularly crucial for cities during the pandemic, and so this platform really inspired other cities within our community of practice.

We were fortunate enough to be joined throughout the visit by colleagues from the ACCMR platform, who also set up the Cities Network for Integration (CNI) – a network of cities in Greece who exchange knowledge and good practice on the integration of third country nationals. We also learnt about the ESTIA project – which houses more than 7,000 beneficiaries in apartments within Athens city centre, and offers a complementary programme of support. We met with the local UNHCR branch; visited the ‘Social Mall’ – a service providing low and no-income families and individuals with food and other basic supplies; and workshopped key challenges that Stockholm and Athens are facing.

Across all of the activities we visited, the wellbeing of frontline workers on whom the pressures of the migration systems rest, was a challenge felt throughout Athens’ services. Cities should aim to meet this need more effectively and build it into their strategies and budgets. Investing in well-being support of staff will benefit not only them but the services and clients too.