What is Caritas Doing in Cyprus and Greece? Ahead of the Pope’s December 2-6 visit to those two countries, the Catholic organization that assists those in need around the world reports on its local activities.
Caritas Cyprus became a member of Caritas Internationalis in 1979 and was registered as an official Cypriot charitable association in 1986. Since then, it has responded to humanitarian crises on the island with the aim of providing compassionate care and support, as well as bringing hope to those living in poverty and on the margins of Cypriot society. Its head office is in Nicosia and it has a presence across the island’s different regions and cities. Against the backdrop of regional developments and the broader European migration crisis that began in 2015, Caritas Cyprus has seen a dramatic increase in demand for its services by those seeking refuge and/or asylum. Caritas Cyprus is one of the few local humanitarian organizations that provide direct assistance.
Currently, about 99% of the people Caritas Cyprus serves have a migrant background. Caritas Cyprus registered approximately 2,300 beneficiaries in 2019 and 2020, but by the middle of 2021, it had registered over 1,500—an indicator of a continued increase in needs. In 2020, the number of families served was 3,822 from 66 different countries.
Almost everyone who comes to Caritas Cyprus seeks information, advice, or assistance in understanding and navigating the asylum, welfare, and labor bureaucracies. Many also require support with food or with accessing housing, employment, medical treatment, psychosocial services, and schooling for children. In addition, Caritas Cyprus serves many others through its parish programs that include food banks, weekly meals, language classes, and other social programs.
Caritas Cyprus provides critical services to thousands of migrants and refugees through the operation of a Centre in Nicosia and through roving teams in Larnaca, Limassol, and Paphos. The Centre is open weekdays to provide a place for migrants to acclimatize, to access legal, healthcare, labor, and psychosocial support; to network; to learn languages (Greek and English), and, when necessary, to access food, clothing, and other humanitarian services. Lacking fixed premises in other cities, many of these services are provided remotely and/or through community outreach.
Caritas Hellas is a member of the Caritas Internationalis confederation since 1952. The purpose of the Organization is to create and implement actions and programs of humanitarian and philanthropic content, as well as to develop a spirit of solidarity within society.
In 2019 2020, Caritas Hellas served 18,260 people in Lesvos, 5,400 on the island of Chios, and 3,700 on the island of Samos.
Caritas Hellas has been present on Lesvos Island since November 2015, answering the ongoing needs of the refugees and asylum seekers in the island. Since 2017, Caritas Hellas has been working in Kara Tepe open official accommodation site, where it has developed a holistic psychosocial support mechanism aiming at improving the social and emotional wellbeing of the served population. As of April 2020, in response to the increased health concerns due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Caritas Hellas has expanded its services in Lesvos; with the support of the international network of Caritas, a new set of interpretation services was introduced, aiming at facilitating the accessibility of refugees and asylum seekers to primary health care units.
Following the devastating fires in Moria in September 2020, Caritas Hellas responded promptly and effectively to the emergency; in cooperation with local, national, and international stakeholders, it directly initiated non-food items (NFI)s distributions and proceeded with the provision of sanitation facilities in the new site. A new mobile social support team was formed, offering support, providing basic information, and identifying the needs of the population accommodated in the new temporary Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) in Lesvos.
In November 2020, Caritas Hellas, with the support of UNICEF has introduced a set of psychosocial support services targeting the women and adolescent girls residing in RIC Lesvos. The designed activities are aimed at empowering them, enhancing their safety and at improving their wellbeing. Until December 2020, 280 women and girls have utilized the provided services.
In May 2019, a Holy See delegation, including Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, visited Moria and Kara Tepe camps in Lesvos. Pope Francis decided to assist Caritas Hellas with 100,000 euros.
Following on the Papal donation, Caritas Hellas has moved with the immediate implementation of a project whose core priority has been to further support the refugees and migrants located in Greece and to bridge imminent gaps in relation to the constantly emerging needs of those located in Athens and in the Aegean islands of Lesvos, Samos, and Chios. With the support of the Holy See, a bundle of various services has been developed focusing on the provision of safe accommodation in Athens, facilitation of access to psychiatric support and primary healthcare services in Chios, and the organisation of educational activities in Lesvos. Moreover, the distribution of hygiene items and other non-food items has taken place, covering the daily and ongoing needs of the population in several geographical locations.
ACCOMMODATION & INTEGRATION
Caritas Hellas and CRS’ accommodation and integration programs include more than 1800 accommodation places offered in Athens and Thessaloniki in the context of UNHCR’s Program ESTIA since 2016. In 2020, the program transited under the Ministry of Migration control. Since July 2019, Caritas Hellas, in collaboration with CRS, is also implementing accommodation and educational activities in Athens and Thessaloniki in the context of IOM’s Project HELIOS, the first nationwide project for the integration of recognised refugees into the Greek society. At the same Caritas Hellas’s Social Spot, offers a variety of services (Psychosocial, Integrational activities, Job counseling, Cultural and recreational activities).
With the kind support of the Apostolic Nunciature in Greece, Caritas Italiana, and Caritas Germany, Caritas Hellas (2016-2020) run a community-based shelter program for refugees in the district of Neos Kosmos offering dignified and safe accommodation to 80 people, focusing on families with vulnerabilities and small children.