Nikos Belavilas is architect-urban planner, Associate Professor at School of Architecture NTUA (Athens, Greece). During the last months, he is the coordinator of the Social Council for Refugees “Kalos Tous” (Welcome, in Greek).
1. What are the founding principles behind the creation of the Social Council for Refugees “Kalos Tous”?
The Social Council for Refugees “Kalos Tous” was created by a group of academics, activists and volunteers during the peak of the refugee crisis (March 2016). Its major aim was to establish a vibrant campaign in Greece and abroad, to promote “good practices” of communities who have helped refugees (e.g. Lesvos, Kozani, Piraeus) and assist skeptical or biased local communities overpassing their negative feelings vis-à-vis the refugees.
At the same time, the aim was to spread the message that “refugees are welcome”. This was to be done not by substituting, replacing or overreaching other organizations, but through acting in a supplementary way and getting involved where we have witnessed stagnation. The name itself, “Kalos Tous”, is the typical Greek salutation for welcoming hosts.
2. What actions and projects have you undertaken with respect to the refugees in Greece?
The major field of action was emergency crisis management wherever it was and it is still necessary. Among other fields, we have focused on the creation of new camps, the coordination of logistics and supplies, the caring of children. In addition to that, we have also started the documentation on the state of emergency of the first months. So far, the documentation has been based on volunteers from Greek islands and the mainland, people that are sharing their personal stories on the refugee crisis, their involvement and solidarity.
3. With which agencies, government bodies, NGOs etc are you cooperating?
We are working with and covering the void between the state, NGOs and volunteers, a big range of organizations and bodies, including the Greek Ministries, the UNCHR, municipalities all over the country. We are working as volunteers without being paid by an official agency or by the state, and this is a political decision we have taken.
Furthermore, we also had to deepen cooperation between non-coordinated groups and institutions, developing communication and crisis management skills of people who, despite their previous experience on the field, they have never been faced with such a well-organized cooperation under continuously pressing, difficult and demanding conditions. To bring you an example, an army officer who was responsible for a camp and a young leftish activist who was coordinating the humanitarian work of supplies were working together on a daily basis. Does this sound crazy? It might so, but not in our program.
4. For what reason you should feel satisfied or relieved so far?
The positive response of the Greek society, of the people from the rural and urban areas was unbelievable. The feeling of saving lives, facing a terrible crisis, and working together with many different people you did not know before was literally a great experience.
Similarly, we cannot forget the feeling of relief after realizing that emergency structures and complicated organization forms eventually could work out. Now, the situation has been somehow stabilized as the majority of refugees has been settled in camps and children are safe.
5. What are the major problems you are faced with?
Huge difficulties in terms of management and a lot of Greek “grizzling”. It is very difficult to accept and deal with the problems; sometimes it is even harder than confronting racism.
6. What are your plans for the near future?
The first cycle has reached its end. The state of emergency has now passed. The goal for the future is the integration of refugees in the Greek society, in the cities, with jobs, with education for the children. This is also difficult and less heroic than the previous state. We have to plan again our steps, together with the movement of volunteers and activists, and to work even harder towards the same target.