This article is part of Changing the Narrative. Articles in this series are written by student or early career journalists who took part in The Local's training course on solutions-focused migration reporting. Find out more about the project here.
Over the last few years, news reports about migration to Greece usually focus on the arrival of refugees, overcrowded camps, and the dire need of aid, short-term solutions and immediate responses. Although this is an issue that deserves coverage, migration in Greece goes beyond the humanitarian crisis on the islands and near the borders.
What happens to the people that decide to stay in Greece? How can they find work, integrate, get their papers in order, and build a life?
The Hellenic Statistical Authority reported that Greece received 119,489 migrants in 2018, the largest number since 1991, following a steady annual increase that started in 2016 when the number nearly doubled since the previous year. Such an influx can be a challenge to manage anywhere, but in a country that only recently managed to come out of a long recession and that still has one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe, especially high levels of migrant unemployment were to be expected.
The unemployment rate of foreign-born residents was 28.6 percent in 2018, about 10 points higher than that of the native population. Complicated paperwork and processes for work and residence permits, not speaking Greek, difficulties with opening a bank account, xenophobia, and a saturated job market are a few of the factors behind this gap.
One possible way to break this vicious circle? Equip the migrant population with the essential tools and knowledge to make it, while trying to change the environment into being more accepting of them. Generation 2.0 started as an informal group in 2006 fighting for the rights of immigrant children that grew up in Greece, and gradually evolved into a non-profit organisation based in Athens that offers career and legal counselling to immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, while also advocating for social and legal reform in Greece.
“Our vision is to achieve a Greek society that is multicultural, open to diversity and that gives everyone the opportunity to express themselves without being judged because of their religion, race, disability or sexuality. We fight to break the stereotypes and to give everyone the right to participate as equal members of society”, says Thanasis Tsaldaris, the project manager of the organisation.
Their services are aimed at people 18-67 years old, men and women, refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants. “The majority of the people coming here are men and usually of a lower educational profile, but not all cases are like that, we’ve had PhD holders come here as well as people that didn’t have the opportunity to receive an education”, says Tsaldaris.
Out of the services offered by Generation 2.0, the career counselling department is the most sought after. Of the 440 total beneficiaries of the organisation in 2018, 406 participated in the Employability program.
“Most people that will walk through the door of the organisation will most likely come for the career counselling service, because it is a project that we’ve built up since 2016 and it’s grown quite a bit. The people who come here really get empowered and are able to navigate the job market, with a large percentage of them managing to find a job in the end”, Tsaldaris explains.
The team behind Generation 2.0. Photo: Aris Athanatos/Generation 2.0
One of these people is Thierno Barry*, a 25-year-old refugee from Guinea. He was referred to Generation 2.0 by another NGO and through individual career counselling sessions he prepared a CV and received training for his job interview in the social services sector. In the end, he got the job.
“They helped me to prepare for the interview the way they do it in Greece, I didn’t know how it’s done here,” he says.
The career counselling services include individual counselling and guidance sessions where counsellors help people create their resumes and prepare for job interviews, soft skills development seminars, peer learning sessions, networking events, Greek language classes, labour rights seminars, and more.
“The labour rights seminars are essential, almost mandatory, because just finding a job is not enough. We want the people who come here to find a legitimate job that is legal and fair, and where their rights will not be violated”, says Katerina Kapnisi, the coordinator of the career counselling department.
Empowering the people who come to Generation 2.0 is more important to the organisation than simply solving a current problem.
They aim to provide the information, training and facilities for people to learn how to navigate the job market, apply for jobs, get their paperwork done and be independent.
“We are not the ones who will find a job for them like a job agency, instead we will empower them to do it themselves, submit the paperwork themselves, send their cover letter, call the employer and ask questions themselves. Empowerment is our main focus,” Tsaldaris adds.
In addition to their focus on empowerment, what they do differently than other similar NGOs is that they don’t only try to help the people looking for a job, but they also reach out to employers and try to change the environment of the Greek job market.
“Our career counselling services prepare the job seekers for the job market, but our project ‘Diversity in the Workplace’ prepares employers in Greece for diversity”, says Kapnisi.
Other than raising awareness, this project also has a practical side. Employers that are interested in diversifying their workplace reach out to Generation 2.0 with job vacancies. The organisation also informs and trains employers and companies on the practical issues that may come up, such as what they need to know about hiring an asylum seeker concerning residence permits, bank accounts and insurance. Over 70 companies currently participate in this network.
Overall in 2018, 156 people who received some of the career counselling services submitted at least one job application, 837 attended job interviews, and 82 were hired, almost double the number of the recruitments of the previous year.
But that is not the only way they measure success.
“Numbers matter and we use them to communicate with the donors, but what is important is the quality of the work being done, at Generation we don’t work like a production line ‘you come in, do the session, then go’, instead we try to always do substantial work on all levels with the people that will come in the organisation”, says Tsaldaris.
Generation 2.0 works with both migrants looking for employment, and employers working to be more inclusive. Photo: Aris Athanatos/Generation 2.0
As with any NGO, it is important to also talk about the funding. Most of the funding comes from foundations, both in Greece and abroad, and a much smaller part comes from European projects. Although Generation 2.0 have managed to establish themselves and are able to get the funding they need, this usually comes with some limitations.
“It’s something that most organisations experience daily, you might want to do so many things, but in the end you don’t have the required resources. This is a constant issue and I think that whoever you talk with that works at an NGO will tell you the same”, says Tsaldaris.
Another issue is that funding is usually for short-term projects and responses. “Ideally, we would always have long-term funding that will help us see the results of our work, because a person might be training and preparing to get a job now, but will find a job in six months or a year. That doesn’t mean that what we do is not working just because we don’t see the results right now”, adds Kapnisi.
Bureaucracy can also cause some issues and create obstacles. There are times that state offices do not accept residence applications even when the deadlines were extended, the unemployment office might reject an application, or a bank might not open an account for a person without a passport.
“Unfortunately, these are only some of the problems that make the situation much more difficult and discourage some employers from going ahead and hiring one of the people we’ve been working with”, says Kapnisi.
The coronavirus pandemic has also influenced Generation 2.0’s work. The national lockdown in Greece and the need for social distancing have forced them to change the way they work. They had to limit the number of people they receive and had to move many of the services and activities online. Many of the scheduled events and activities also had to be postponed or even cancelled. However, they managed to adapt.
“I never actually went to Generation because I was referred to them two or three months ago, during Corona times. They helped me prepare my CV and trained me for the job interview, they helped me so much”, says Barry*, one of the people that received career counselling entirely through Zoom or Whatsapp. “I’m very thankful for what they did for me and I hope they can help more people like me because the immigrant people here are struggling to survive”, he adds.
The unemployment gap between the native-born and migrant populations is not an issue unique to Greece, so there are lessons other countries can learn. What Generation 2.0 do differently is how they focus on empowerment and advocacy instead of only preparing and training migrants for the workforce.
Reaching out to employers and training companies on issues of diversity is also essential, especially for a country like Greece, that up until recently has been quite homogeneous in terms of race and religion. As Kapnisi puts it “what really matters is for the job market and the employers to be not only accepting of migrants, but also treating them fairly and with equality.”
*Name has been changed to protect his anonymity
Dimitra Karapanagiotou is a journalist and student based in the Netherlands, originally from Greece.