[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] A Greek Orthodox Church-run hostel for unaccompanied child refugees in Greece has been given a lifeline following a cash injection from Anglican and ecumenical Christian agencies. The Hestia Boys Hostel in Athens has been providing accommodation and training for child refugees from Afghanistan, Congo, Iraq, Pakistan and Syria since 2011. But a restructuring by the European Union meant that its funding had been suspended. Now, the Diocese in Europe’s Athens’ chaplaincy has stepped in to keep the centre open, with the support of the Anglican mission agency USPG and the British ecumenical agency Christian Aid.
Official estimates suggest that there are 2,300 unaccompanied minors in Greece – with unofficial estimates putting the number much higher. Some 1,300 of these children are in age-appropriate shelter but the others are in inadequate accommodation such as refugee camps, detention centres, or even living on the streets, USPG said.
The Hestia hostel was established by Apostoli, the humanitarian arm of the Greek Orthodox Church, to care for some of these children. It has the support of the Greek government. The country’s migration policy minister, Ioannis Mouzalas, visited the home last week with Archbishop Ieronymos [Jerome] II of Athens, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church.
Afterwards, Mr Mouzalas praised the work of Hestia, saying that “Apostoli, in partnership with the Anglican Church [in Greece], USPG and Christian Aid, offers unaccompanied minors shelter, food, basic items, counselling, psychological support, health care and help in adapting to [their] new reality.”
The senior Anglican Chaplain in Athens, Father Malcolm Bradshaw, has been co-ordinating the Anglican church’s response to the refugee crisis. In welcoming the new financial support package for Hestia, he said: “It is important that all support for children on the move must be child-friendly, holding the best interests of the child as uppermost. The practice of holding minors in detention centres must be brought to a speedy end. Alternative centres must be established.”
Vasileios Meichanetsidis, of Apostoli, said that the young people who arrive at the hostel “struggle to come to terms with their experiences of conflict and violent displacement, which are extremely raw. So we provide them with support and various activities to occupy their minds positively; we help them have a greater purpose in their life.
“It is clear that these children and adolescents are very frustrated with the ongoing situation in [their home countries]. Our multi-dimensional support is vital for their overall survival and welfare.”
The Anglican Church in Greece, part of the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe, together with USPG and Christian Aid are providing one year’s emergency funding to Hestia. “We’re delighted to be a part of this much-needed initiative,” USPG’s programmes co-ordinator Rebecca Boardman said. “Having safe and supportive accommodation gives these children hope for the future. It also means they’re off the streets and away from risks such as trafficking and exploitation.”