“I live in a European country that has the worst refugee camp in the world”

20 March 2019

Brussels, 20 March 2019  Francisca Onofre, director of JRS Greece, has been living in Athens since the summer of 2018. She gives us her testimony.

The last two years have been years of re-learning to discern, to trust and to accept what life is putting in my path. These have been years of realising what living in mission is about, growing the desire to be close to people, working with and for the most vulnerable ones: the poor of the poor, those who are marginalized, those whom society does not like to discuss. It was just in the middle of these questions that, in the beginning of July, I received an email from Filipe Martins SJ offering me a new challenge at the Jesuit Refugee Service in Greece.

Greece? Actually, this country had never been considered as an option, since I was more inclined to work in Africa. Nevertheless, the proposal was Greece, and it was addressed to someone with skills and capabilities that fit exactly my profile. I did not hesitate, and the day after receiving the email I was answering Filipe to confirm my availability. I was very motivated to speak with the Director of JRS Europe, and I was eventually chosen to work in this European country that is now "my Africa, my place of mission!"

I live in a European country that has the worst refugee camp in the world (Moria), where almost nobody wants to work, where NGOs barely enter, where thousands of people live in inhumane conditions. But Greece is not just Moria! In Portugal, the information we are given conveys the idea that, with the exception of Moria, "Greece is better." The truth is that many people still experience and feel the economic crisis and live in precarious conditions. 

According to the Greek Ministry of Migration, in January 2019 there were 74.000 refugees and asylum seekers in the country. Samos Island has a camp with a capacity for 600 refugees, which is now "welcoming" 4.310, on the report of UNHCR. 

Here at JRS Greece, we work in Athens with urban refugees in one of the most populated immigrant and refugee districts. JRS Greece has a Reception Centre for families and women, that started as an Emergency Centre where people were mostly welcomed for 2 or 3 days (Athens was then a place of passage). Later on, with the closure of the Border Centre Reception, it gradually became a Community of Social Reinsertion, as now people may have to wait years in Greece until they reach the destination they want.

JRS Greece also runs the Pedro Arrupe Centre for Social Integration for children and young people. At the moment, it hosts about 170 students, who are accompanied in their studies by our team. The Centre offers other extra-curricular activities as well, fostering moments of growth for the whole person. Moreover, we have a Day Centre with a non-formal education program for young adults and adults (Greek, English, French, computer, and workshops). Here the JRS team opened a special meeting point called “Tea Time,” in order to promote the creation of a community among migrants and refugees. Finally, we have a social shop where last year we delivered clothes and household goods to over 1.300 people.

The accompaniment and the services have been possible thanks to the team and the large number of volunteers and donors who daily support the work and the mission of JRS Greece.

First published on 14 January 2019 on the JRS Portugal Website.