A collage entry from the 'A Home Away From Home' contest for Greek schools.| Photo: UNHCR
A collage entry from the 'A Home Away From Home' contest for Greek schools.| Photo: UNHCR

Recently in Greece over 2000 students, from Greek and migrant backgrounds, participated in a competition to express their thoughts on the meaning of home. Over 100 students won prizes in the contest, which was meant to help improve attitudes towards refugees in the country.

The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR announced more than 100 winners of a national contest in Greece for students across the country on the topic of refugees. The contest - "A Home Away From Home" - was the 22nd national student contest on refugees and was held in cooperation with the inter-agency Youth Awareness Committee (YAC). More than 2,000 students, including refugees, participated in the 2018-2019 contest with the valuable support of their teachers.

Children in 140 primary and secondary schools, evening schools, schools for children with disabilities, and reception classes for refugee children worked together or individually on texts, posters, comics, sketches and logos. One of the highlights of the competition was the winning entry, a written composition by Mohammed Saber, a high school student from Iraq who studies at the 1st Vocational High School in Livadia. He wrote (in Greek): "Home is not...Home is not the walls and the floors. Or clothes and toys. Neither is it the rooms and balconies. Or the beds and chairs. It's not even the people, who have cold in their hearts. Home is… Home is in the kind hand that helps you climb the ladder of your dreams. In the words from the heart that help you take each step In the sincere embrace in which you can't let go. In the people who shed a tear of joy for me." 

Sharing ideas and experiences

The 22nd National Student Contest gave students across Greece the chance to share ideas and experiences about what home means for each of them and to also think about the men, women and children who have been forced to leave their homes behind, fleeing conflicts and persecution. Awards were given to students from cities across Greece, including Athens, Ano Toumpa, Thessaloniki, Karditsa, Kozani, Lamia, Livadia, Marousi, Metamorphosi, Peristeri, Samos, Skala Oropou, Serres and Chalkidiki. 

YAC members evaluated the entries based on their expertize. All participants will receive commemorative diplomas, those who won prizes are set to receive technological equipment either for their schools or themselves. In a statement, YAC said: "The committee would like to thank all the students and schools for their work, notable for its talent and originality, as well as for their efforts to build a home for all. A home grounded on safety, love and respect, such as the one described by Mohammed from Iraq (the poem above) in his winning poem." 

Members of YAC include the Greek Ministry of Education, Research and Religious Affairs; the National Center for Educational Research of Primary Schools (IPEM/DOE); the Greek Council for Refugees; the Hellenic Theater/Drama and Education Network; the Marangopoulos Foundation for Human Rights; the Center for Intercultural Education of Athens University; the Research and Documentation Center (KE.ME.TE) of the Federation of Secondary Education Instructors (OLME); the Panhellenic Association of Arts Teachers; the Panhellenic Association of Literature Teachers; the Greek Ombudsman - Ombudsman for Children's Rights; and UNHCR. 

Solidarity still strong 

Although deep frustrations persist among locals in Greece - which has borne the brunt of the flows of people coming from war-torn countries in the Middle East and Africa - a recent report concluded that Greeks are "more likely to express empathy towards refugees than to blame them for their circumstances."

More importantly, the survey showed that the majority of Greeks don't think the arrival of migrants and their integration into society represents any serious "threat" to their national identity. Initiatives such as "A Home Away From Home", as well as many other educational and integration-focused programs for both children and adults that continue to grow in Greece, are good news for asylum seekers seeking a new life. 

Meanwhile, however, the ongoing refugee crisis shows no sign of letting up. At current rates of migration, the number of asylum seekers in Greece is estimated to surpass 90,000 by the end of 2019. Greek Migration Policy Minister Dimitris Vitsas recently said the country's current systems and infrastructure have the capacity to process only 20,000 asylum applications each year, whereas the country received a massive 67,000 asylum applications in 2018. 

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