“All they ask for is to treat them with respect”

 Emergency Response
 9th Jan 2017

“All they want and ask for is to treat them with respect. That’s what we do here”, says Sofia Papadopoulou, a legal counselor currently working in the Legal Aid Center of CARE’s local partner PRAKSIS in Thessaloniki. The Social Center provides free legal counseling to all vulnerable and socially excluded groups of the population. Sofia is specialized in providing legal aid to immigrants, refugees and newcomer asylum seekers. She works for a joint project of CARE and PRAKSIS funded by the European Commission.

Sofia Papadopoulou in the Legal Aid Center of CARE’s local partner PRAKSIS in Thessaloniki.

As she explains, “from the first moment the refugee influx started in Greece, I was volunteering in PRAKSIS because I understood that these people need our help and felt like I should be there. Having experienced war or other extreme hardships valid information and some guidance is one of their key needs. I find what we do here very important”.

Provision of accurate and timely information on the rights of the asylum seeking population in the country and management of their legal cases is one of the key areas of the CARE’s and PRAKSIS work in Greece. However, as Sofia describes “sometimes all refugees need is the reassurance that they followed the right procedure. Having spent too much time in a camp or living for too long in inhuman conditions make them feel they’ re left at the mercy of God, that no one really cares about their case. And this is something that exacerbates their fear and anxiety, causing big emotional stress. All they want and ask for is to treat them with respect and dignity; and that’s what we do here”.

 “They constantly have to deal with ignorance, provision of inaccurate or wrong information or mistaken interpretation of laws and procedures to be followed the circulation of invalid information or misinterpretation of the application procedures or their rights”. During December, PRAKSIS’ legal protection team in Thessaloniki has processed and assisted 21 refugees, mostly Syrian nationals. The follow up of each single case is necessary and it is always a great joy for everyone when a relocation or reunification application is successful. “You know a refugee never comes here just once. As a lawyer you gain their trust and they come back sometimes to just share their news. It is really rewarding to hear some good news from people you have guided, followed their cases and advised, and you can say it is also a kind of psychological support what we are actually doing”.

At the moment, there are 62,792 refugees in Greece and according to the last report of the Greek Asylum Service 36,750 asylum requests have been recorded between January and October 2016. With large numbers of the refugee population remaining in a legal limbo Sofia’s wish for the New Year is simple and extremely important:

“For 2017, my wish for refugees is good luck and a new start where ever they are in the world. My wishfor us is to have the courage to continue the hard work and reach as many people in need as we can.”

You can find out more about CARE's work in Greece here.

About CARE in Greece: With 70 years of experience and long-term presence in many of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries, CARE takes a comprehensive approach to emergency response: first by working with communities to prepare for and mitigate the impact of disasters; then by partnering with local groups to provide immediate assistance when an emergency hits; and finally by working with affected communities to help them recover after the crisis has passed. With the influx of refugees to Europe, CARE started providing emergency assistance to refugees stranded in Greece, including cash, protection and accommodation. The project is funded by the European Commission.

PRAKSIS is an independent Greek NGO aiming to provide humanitarian support spanning a wide range of fields (such as medical, legal, social, psychological and financial) to vulnerable groups in need regardless of color, race, religion, age, nationality, ideology or political beliefs, through an array of programs. The organization's activities expand all across Greece. The main emphasis is given to the two larger urban centers of Athens and Thessaloniki, where the need for humanitarian and social support is crucially concentrated. PRAKSIS constitute CARE’s main local partner in Greece.

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