Bureaucratic Integration for refugees in Greece

By Vangi Dora

One of the biggest obstacles that refugees and asylum seekers face in their daily life in Greece is the language barrier. Not being able to communicate with local people causes major problems to their integration and interaction with Greek authorities and public services. The European Commission' Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department is funding CARE to cover this gap by supporting and guiding refugees in Athens to navigate through 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.

We are all 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 can understand how challenging and stressful issuing a simple national document or even opening a bank account in a foreign country can be. Yet, in these cases, we choose to make this new start and probably we rather choose a country where we can somehow communicate on our own.  Still, navigating through a foreign country’s bureaucratic procedures is always quite painful. Can you imagine how challenging all these bureaucratic procedures can be for refugees in Greece?

Photo: Orestis Seferoglou

Sitting in a corner inside Almasar Center, where the team of CARE in Athens is supporting refugees with the national bureaucratic procedures, I am wondering how difficult it can be for a foreigner who does not speak the Greek language to navigate through the complex bureaucratic system of Greece and understand his rights and obligations. For me as a Greek, it has been always a nightmare to navigate alone in this sector of accountants and tax advisors.

“Is this where I can issue AMKA and AFM?” My thoughts are interrupted by a young boy who enters silently the Center. AMKA is the Greek abbreviation for the social security number and AFM the abbreviation for the tax registration number. He 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 issue 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, Greek-Arabic speaking CARE integration officer. The boy smiles and approaches Said’s desk to start the procedure. He 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 from Syria the usefulness of each document and what does AMKA and AFM stand for.

AMKA and AFM numbers are essential to refugees for many reasons; but among the most important ones are two. Firstly, without those two numbers refugees cannot visit a public hospital, nor receive prescribed medicine. Secondly, they cannot work legally in the country and they cannot benefit from the national social welfare system and be supported via national 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 from the many that refugees have to take. As a Syrian friend told me the same day I visited the 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”. Applying for AMKA and AFM is only the first step of the integration support offered by CARE.

For more of our work in Greece, click here.