Partnering with IOM for our last Emergency Smile mission to Greece

26.August 2019

Partnering with IOM for our latest Emergency Smile mission to Greece

Around 980 beneficiaries were reached last month during our three weeks mission to Greece.  Our international team from Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland worked in close cooperation with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to bring psychosocial support to the refugees living in the northern and central part of the country.

Our last outreach mission, Emergency Smile, to Greece was conducted together with a new partner for RED NOSES International (RNI), the International Organisation of Migration (IOM). More than 25.000 migrants and refugees are waiting in camps, co-run by the IOM and the Greek authorities, in mainland Greece. In total, in March 2019, there were 76.000 official migrants and refugees in Greece, with 14.600 of these spread on the various islands.

This time, the geographical area changed compared to our last missions to Greece, as the team didn’t go to the islands but to the Greek mainland. Many of the migrants have come from the islands that we have already visited, to new places and new uncertainties. As always, the uncertainty and at times hopelessness of their situation, takes a heavy toll on the emotional, psychological and even physical well-being.

The team consisted of four clowns from RED NOSES Croatia, Hungary and Poland, as well as a head of mission from the Czech Republic. The mission was, a per usual, a 4-week mission, with a first week of training spent in Vienna followed by three weeks on the ground working with the migrants and refugees.  The formats used during the mission were our standard Emergency Smile formats, consisting of shows, clown parades and circus smile-workshops for the target group and humour workshops for the staff of IOM.

Working with unaccompanied minors

Unaccompanied minors are a particularly vulnerable subset of refugees. Several research studies have shown that, psychologically speaking, the stress and challenges associated with travelling and resettling without a parent or trusted adult, lead to higher rates of depression and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), compared to other refugee and migrant groups.

Reasons for greater emotional difficulties include: separation from families and networks, hardships and stressors faced early in life and exposure to violence both in their home country and on their journey. Once they have arrived in the EU a new set of stressors related to resettlement affects these children, including barriers to education, increased isolation, frequent moves, and mistrust and misunderstanding of the asylum processes. Despite all these challenges, many unaccompanied minors possess strong sense of agency and high adaptability skills. We have gathered experience through working with groups of unaccompanied minors in recent missions to Greece, and we have found them to be exceptionally receptive and eager to learn.

For this mission, our international team of trained clowns worked in two refugee camps in the north of the country, Volvi and Kato Milia, and one camp in Malakasa, in the south of Greece. The Greek authorities in cooperation with IOM run all refugee camps. Conversely, the unaccompanied minors were living in centres, which are actual hotels, run by IOM alone.

Besides all the challenges we encountered throughout the three weeks we were in Greece, the mission was a total success. We managed to bring psychosocial support to hundreds of people, and ended up doing so much more than we expected.

*This Emergency Smile mission to Greece took place thanks to the support of Alta Mane foundation.