Providing hope for young refugees in Greece

A young man pictured holding his collage.

“We don't have anything to do here and all of us are bored,” says Azim, 20. “We started to come to this class to do something new and learn something beyond just eating and sleeping.”

Azim arrived in Greece in February after fleeing his home in Kabul, Afghanistan. He now lives outside Athens in a refugee camp, where he participates in Mercy Corps workshops twice a week.

Azim’s parents are dead and he is confused about what his future holds. He has few options to make a new life for himself and he doesn’t know what he can do to improve his situation.

Like many young refugees in Greece, the Mercy Corps workshops are one of his only sources of learning and emotional support.

The sessions use art therapy, including clay work, photography, drawing and painting, as well as language classes and other skills training, to promote social cohesion and improve the wellbeing of young male and female refugees.

Reaching an invisible group

When the European Union and Turkey struck a deal earlier this year to limit the number of refugees traveling to Europe, and many of Europe’s borders were closed, those who were temporarily sheltering in Greece, like Azim, found themselves stuck.

Suddenly, they were trapped in a country that was new and different — a place they hadn’t planned on being for long.

Around 60,000 refugees are currently living in Greece, a large portion of whom are youth who’ve been forced to leave their entire lives behind and are now searching for a hopeful future.

Young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are particularly at risk of alienation and despair when affected by war and displacement. There are very few safe spaces for them to spend time, there are few opportunities for them to learn or earn income, and there is little social and mental health support to help them cope with what they’ve been through.

Unfortunately, this group is often overlooked during humanitarian crises.

That’s why Mercy Corps has made it a priority to help Azim and other young refugees in Greece.

Young female refugees participate in art therapy in Athens. ALL PHOTOS: Sara Hylton for Mercy Corps

Mercy Corps has been present in Greece since August 2015, and through our work in refugee camps and informal settlements we have seen first-hand the increasing trend toward despondency in young people.

Our workshops, which are run in partnership with local organizations, combat this by providing at-risk youth with emotional support and life skills education. The English and Greek language classes are also vital in helping them integrate into their host communities.

Since April 2016, over 900 youth have already participated in the classes and workshops.

Youth are integral to the future of this world, whether peace allows them to return to the country they have fled or they resettle elsewhere. It is vital we all work together to help them realize a better world is possible and that their future can be brighter than the past they left behind.

Help us provide even more support to young refugees and others in crisis around the world.
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