According to the International Rescue Committee, in the past two years, 1.3 million people have fled from conflict and persecution to Greece in search of safety. Currently, there are over 45,000 refugees and migrants living in Greece, and over half of these refugees are women and children.
Migrant women in Athens, Greece, who call themselves The Melissa Network, are banding together to help women refugees by providing a support network for women. The network teaches girls and women to code, learn languages, and develop leadership skills.
According to their website, “Melissa is a network for migrant and refugee women living in Greece. It aims to strengthen bonds and build bridges of communication, to promote empowerment and active citizenship. The Melissa Network has provided over 4000 meals to refugee children and distributed over 1200 care packs to refugees in need in Greece in the last year.”
Nadina Christopoulou, a Greek anthropologist and Co-Founder of The Melissa Foundation, told the Independent that empowering these women is their main focus. She says, “For us, integration and empowerment had to be the focus.”
Christopoulou said, “Few organizations in Athens have the resources to address sexual and gender-based violence that can affect women refugees. As a result, victims are failing to receive the support they need when they arrive in Greece. You see women coming in here with broken wings. They have faced so many challenges. But within the span of one or two weeks here you start to see new personalities emerging.”
These women use the community that they have created to empower each other and address issues that other organizations have failed to address or even talk about. In a report, the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees said, “Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Refugees and internally displaced people who do not enjoy the protection of their own governments, are among those most vulnerable to acts of violence, including sexual and gender-based violence.”
All of these women have unique skills and ideas that could be great contributions to society. This is why the network provides work experience, job opportunities, and CV workshops to help women meet their potential. Christopoulou said, “They come here with so many skills, talents and dreams and you can tap into all that as an organization and as a society – but first, you have to provide the basics.”
She adds, “I believe there are opportunities here and I believe the Greeks are beginning to open up more and are welcoming people. We have zero drop out rates here. They only leave [Melissa Network] if they have to leave Athens. And the number keeps on growing higher. It’s a challenge… but it’s also something that makes us very happy.”
The network’s co-founders hope that in the future there will be more services that can help address the needs of refugee and migrant women. Until then, The Melissa Network is providing some much needed support.
Featured Image by Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan on Flickr
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