Greece is a country with significant economic emigration experience. There were three mass emigration waves in modern Greek history: the first in the late 19th–early 20th century, the second (which was by far the most numer-ous) in the 1960s and 1970s, and the third wave presently, due to the current economic crisis. It is estimated that in these three emigration waves, more than 1,750,000 Greeks have migrated to foreign countries (Kotzamanis & Mihos, 2005; Lazaretou, 2016)
Greece is a country with significant economic emigration experience. There were three mass emigration waves in modern Greek history: the first in the late 19th–early 20th century, the second (which was by far the most numerous) in the 1960s and 1970s, and the third wave presently, due to the current economic crisis. It is estimated that in these three emigration waves, more than 1,750,000 Greeks have migrated to foreign countries (Kotzamanis & Mihos,2005; Lazaretou, 2016)
Greece is a country with significant economic emigration experience. There were three mass emigration waves in modern Greek history: the first in the late 19th–early 20th century, the second (which was by far the most numerous) in the 1960s and 1970s, and the third wave presently, due to the current economic crisis. It is estimated that in these three emigration waves, more than 1,750,000 Greeks have migrated to foreign countries (Kotzamanis & +Mihos, 2005; Lazaretou, 2
Greece has a long history of economic migration of its people which took place in the late 19th/early 20th century, during the 1960s and 1970s as well as in the present day due to the economic crisis (Anagnostaki & Zaharia, 2020). Even though relative data from these periods are limited, it is known that migration during the 1950s and 1960s largely contributed to the survival of the left behind families in Greece, including a substantial number of children. Data suggest that back then 17% of the Greek migrant families with 2 children had left one child behind and 36% of the Greek migrant families with 3 children had left one or two of them in Greece (European Commission, 2012). As to the present day, substantial changes in the socioeconomic and family contexts in Greece have led to a decreased occurrence of left behind children.
However, since the early 1990s the country has also been a destination for a large number of migrants of various ethnic and national backgrounds in a search of a brighter future. Migratory flows have dramatically increased during the past five years as more than one million people have entered Greece since 2015 (European Commission, 2016) and it is estimated that there are currently 119.700 migrants and refugees who still remain in the country (UNHCR, 2021). According to latest data from the National Center for Social Solidarity (2020) there are also 5.099 unaccompanied children among them: 2.056 of them reside in long-term or temporary accommodation, 43 children in Emergency UAC Accommodation Sites, 1.501 children in Reception and Identification Centers, 276 children in protective custody, 234 children in open temporary accommodation facilities and 989 children in insecure housing conditions (in apartments with others, in squats, homeless and moving frequently between different types of accommodation).
Thus, the case of Greece also confirms that children’s separation from their family is part of the immigration process worldwide as millions of children are left behind for reasons often pertaining to the lack of legal and safe pathways that prevent parents from migrating along with their offsprings. The emotional and psychological consequences for left behind children include depression, anxiety, social isolation, aggressiveness, drug and alcohol abuse. With regard to educational outcomes, children whose parents have migrated leaving them behind are less likely to enrol in school and more likely to have declining attendance or to drop-out of school altogether. However, it is important to note that contact with parents and support from the in-country guardians and from community as a whole can buffer such negative consequences (UNICEF, n.d.).
As stated in the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), children, including separated and unaccompanied minors, are entitled to special protection, such as adequate living conditions, access to healthcare and education, and the right to be protected from physical, mental and sexual violence and abuse. The Convention also stresses the governments’ obligation to help trace the parents or other members of the family of an unaccompanied minor with the aim of family reunification. In addition to that, the United Nations Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees refers as well to the need to ensure the protection of children in terms of family unity. Moreover, the importance of family reunification for unaccompanied minors is prioritized in the Dublin Regulation.
It is known that separated and unaccompanied children in Greece are faced with serious protection gaps such as unsanitary and unsafe conditions due to the lack of child-suitable places and over crowdedness, limited access to basic services, such as shelter, water, food, medical care and education, insufficient age assessment procedures and lack of guardianship (European Parliamentary Research Service, 2020). Therefore, provided that unaccompanied and separated minors are the most vulnerable part of the refugee population, there exist many organisations that provide support to this population in the Greek field. Organizations that safeguard migrant and refugee rights include among others: the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Arsis, Greek Council for Refugees, International Rescue Committee, Actionaid, Metadrasi, Médecins sans Frontières, Danish Refugee Council, Praxis, Solidarity Now, Terre des Hommes, Caritas Hellas and Médecins du Monde.
The majority of the programs run by these organisations provide children with accommodation, educational activities, legal and psychosocial support. For example, in order to address child protection gaps, the NGO Metadrasi has developed a temporary foster system so as to support children’s needs for safe and adequate housing at least for as long they reunite with relatives in Europe (Metadrasi, n.d.a). At the same time, in order to alleviate migratory pressures and support Greece, the European Commission has proposed the relocation of up to 1.600 minors to other EU Member States as part of a scheme supported by the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) (European Commission, 2020). However, by mid-April 2020 only 60 minors had been relocated to Germany and Luxembourg (European Parliamentary Research Service, 2020)
With regard to refugee accommodation, one of the most known programmes running in Greece is “ESTIA” which provides accommodation and cash assistance to refugees and asylum-seekers, including vulnerable groups such as unaccompanied children and single parents with minor children. According to UNHCR data (2019), 25.545 places had been created in the accommodation scheme as part of the programme by October 2019, while accommodation took place in 4.475 apartments and 14 buildings, in 14 cities and 7 islands across Greece. Altogether, more than 61.895 migrants and refugees had benefitted from this scheme (UNHCR, 2019).
Another example comes from the NGO Solidarity Now and the “Step by step” program which aims to ensure and protect the fundamental rights of unaccompanied children by providing them with an alternative form of care and living. Moreover, the program’s goals entail individualized care and protection of children, strengthening of their abilities and skills, one-to-one support to accomplish their personal goals, and enhancing their self-confidence and self-preservation so that they become independent. In this way minors are led “step by step” to a smooth integration into the Greek society and adulthood as well (Solidarity Now, 2020).
As far as the education of refugee children is concerned, the European Wergeland Centre (EWC) has implemented the “Schools for All” programme to facilitate integration of refugee pupils in Greek schools. The training aims to provide school directors and teachers with the tools and competence to deal with intolerance, discrimination, and racism so as to create a safe and inclusive environment in school and the local community. The program is estimated to reach 150 schools and 30 trainers (The European Wergeland Centre, n.d.).
In addition to this, Metadrasi has implemented “Step2School” a non-formal summer educational programme, addressed to minors 6 to 18 years of age who live in temporary hosting facilities or unaccompanied minors residing in accommodation facilities, but it is also open to children that live in the neighbourhood. It provides Greek, English, and German language lessons, mathematics, computer skills and also creative projects, with the aim of cultivating multiple skills. The programme has reached so far 2.500 beneficiaries (Metadrasi, n.d.c).
Another programme is “BACKPACK ID” which runs in 4 European countries (Greece, Italy, Germany, Sweden) and intends to promote the inclusion of upper-elementary and lower-secondary (10-15 years old) refugee students at school, aiming at both refugee and non-refugee students. The programme perceives social inclusion of refugee children as a function of addressing the needs and perspectives of those children and their families and it aims to empower students and help them experience aspects of “otherness” in themselves. To facilitate this end, students’ families and social background become the main resources. “BACKPACK ID” also aims to enhance refugee students’ literacy in the new language and the innovative character of the programme lies in the integration of multiple identities, empowerment, and literacy development.
As far as the adult migrant and refugee population is concerned, most relative programs designed and implemented in Greece also aim to provide psychosocial support, empowerment and legal assistance (e.g. Greek Council for Refugees, n.d.), accommodation (e.g. Solidarity Now, n.d.a), integration in the labour market (e.g. Praksis, n.d.), teach the Greek language and/or other skills (e.g. Metadrasi, n.d.b) or prevent gender-based violence (e.g. Diotima, n.d.). However, most of these programs do not target migrant and refugee parents as a distinct category of the refugee population, but are aimed toward adults in general and they are rarely quantized.
With regard to educational programs for adult migrants and refugees, the General Secretariat of Lifelong Learning of the Ministry of Education is the responsible authority for most and they are usually organized by the Greek state, NGOs or other organisations. Education can be pursued by migrants and refugees in the Second Chance Schools and Centers for Lifelong Learning, while Greek and other European language courses for migrants and refugees are provided by universities, NGOs, and Centres for Vocational Training (UNHCR, n.d.). A number of non-formal educational one-off activities for migrants and refugees ranging from vocational skills training to digital and entrepreneurship skills are also commonly organized in the city of Athens.
A relevant example of an educational programme for adult migrants and refugees is project “P.R.E.S.S.” (Provision of Refugee Education and Support Scheme) which was implemented by the Hellenic Open University during 2016–2017. It aimed to provide educational actions and educational support services to children, adolescents and adult refugees in Greece, with the goal of their long-term educational empowerment. The project entailed a series of educational actions and integration interventions and the materials produced throughout the project are available in an online toolkit, including research outcomes, educational material, training material, good practices, support guides and awareness-raising initiatives.
It has already been suggested that parents’ involvement and learning the Greek language are crucial in ensuring migrant children’s school integration (Minedu, 2017). Therefore, some educational programs for minors have also included parents as participants. For example, during 2016–2017 the British Council funded by UNICEF through DfID and ECHO launched the “Non-formal Education Activities for Skaramagas Refugee Camp” project. The aim of the project was to support refugee children in accessing and engaging with education and it targeted, among others, adolescent boys and girls aged 12-17 years old as well as parents and children from 3-6 years old. Parents and children engaged in joint activities and they seemed to enjoy learning together but it was unclear whether the activities aimed at learning English or assisting parents to develop bonds with their children (British Council, 2017).
Moreover, Elix NGO, supported by UNICEF and IOM and funded by the European Commission (DG HOME), has launched “The Learning for Integration Project: Quality Learning and Non-formal Education for Refugee and Migrant Children and Adults in Greece”. The project aims to provide personalized, non-formal education and supplementary teaching to children and adult migrants and refugees through the use of innovative educational methods in order to equip them with knowledge and skills that will facilitate their smooth integration. The innovation of the project lies in the promotion of digital knowledge and blended learning through the use of tablets and the pilot launch of the “Akelius” language learning platform. The program will reach 3.000 children in the island of Lesvos as well as 1.500 parents who will receive self-learning material to assist their children’s integration in school (Elix, 2020).
Many organisations in Greece also provide family counselling and psychoeducation to parents. The NGO Ark of the World organizes “schools for parents”, mainly, mothers. In these schools, parents take part in group meetings with social workers and in trainings concerning their parental role and relationship with their children. Participating parents receive information on matters relating to boundaries within the family (e.g. rules, consistency), their own attitude towards values such as respect, love, responsibility, and how to foster virtues. Moreover, the organisation provides personal meetings to each family individually in which parents can receive guidance on issues regarding their parental role. As a result, they learn how to best approach and raise their children (Kivotos tou Kosmou, n.d.).
Solidarity Now NGO with funding from UNICEF/ECHO has also launched Child & Family Support Hubs (CFSH) which target refugee and migrant children, women, and vulnerable families living in camps in Central Greece, Central and Eastern Macedonia, Attica and Thessaloniki. Each CFSH aspires to be a safe place where children, women and families can receive services free-of-charge, such as psychosocial and non-formal educational activities, legal and psycho-social support. It is estimated that 3.562 children and adults received educational services and 2.221 benefitted from psychosocial activities during the period from November 2017 until February 2019 (Solidarity Now, n.d.b)
Overall, it seems that there are not many initiatives regarding transnational families and the enhancement of communication between parents and their children let alone using technological and digital tools. To our knowledge, there is only one such programme running in Greece by the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens as well as the Doctors of the World–Greek Delegation. “IENE 8 – Empowering migrant and refugee families with parenting skills” is an Erasmus+ programme with a 24-month duration aiming to develop an online curriculum for health professionals to provide knowledge and skills on parenting and child-family health care needs, while the project will also develop online bite-size learning units for parents. Furthermore, the project promotes the development of intercultural competences in professionals and volunteers all of whom will contribute to the development and implementation of the activities. At the same time, it involves the use of an open, innovative learning tool, based on the principles of peer learning and support, co-creation and effective utilization. The innovative learning tools aspire to become examples of good practice for effective use of technologies and pedagogies in the areas of migration, integration and healthy community, regarding parenting skills and psychological support of migrant and refugee families (Médecins du Monde Greece, n.d.).
The aforementioned data suggest that even though many NGOs in Greece have taken action in the field of migrant and refugee protection, the majority of them aim to cover basic needs, such as shelter, and facilitate access to basic resources, such as health and legal support. On the contrary, few if any programs target transnational families and aim to improve migrant parents’ communication with their children. This is not surprising provided that Greece was rather unprepared for the large migratory flows and related structures were created in a sense of urgency. At the same time, the migrant and refugee population often lives in an “in transit” situation, characterized by great mobility and faces both linguistic and practical constraints that impede the successful implementation of such interventions. However, as years go by both organisations in the field and the migrant population have gained substantial experience and are more prepared to develop new skills and resources.
Therefore, it is necessary to take a step forward by acknowledging the losses and traumatic experiences that migrant families have been through, such as leaving their children behind, and help them cope with related adversities. It has been recognized that one way to increase their resilience is by fostering communication between family members and enhancing parents’ ability to function effectively in their parenting role (Merimna, 2018). As the enforced experience of migrating to a foreign country often results in a feeling of loss of agency in migrants’ and refugees’ key roles, such as the parental one, it is crucial to strengthen their sense of parental agency (Sarikoudi & Apostolidou, 2020).
To do so, parents must identify their own individual needs concerning their relationship with their children and find proper ways to respond to them. Offering parents with tools to facilitate a continuous and substantial communication with the children left behind at home through the use of technological tools can be important means to overcome time and place barriers and bridge distance and lost time. Most importantly, it can help children achieve healthy psychosocial development despite being separated from their parents. Feeling connected with and cared for by their parents can ease the emotional and psychological difficulties that left behind children might face during their most important years of development.
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- British Council. (2017, May). Project review: Non-formal education activities for Skaramagas refugee camp in Greece. Retrieved from https://www.britishcouncil.gr/sites/default/files/project-review-non-formal-education-activities-skaramagas-refugee-camp-greece.pdf
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