FOREIGNERS IN THEIR MIDST
So much has changed since my last trip to Katerini in February. PERICHORESIS, the church-affiliated non-profit that I will be working with here, now has three separate programs all running simultaneously with separate staff for oversight and implementation.
The program that was starting when I first arrived (last August) with the UNHCR is still taking place. In February, the PERICHORESIS-UNHCR program was renting out three hotels to house people in, given the poor conditions in refugee camps. Now, the program is housing around 350 individuals in apartments in Katerini while families and individuals wait for decisions about relocation or family reunification. There is also a PERICHORESIS program funded by a German partner church that provides housing in Katerini for around 50 individuals. The third program is the PERICHORESIS-REFUAID program that I am serving with. This program is smaller in scale and is funded by a UK organization focused on creating sustainable and long-term solutions for refugees and the local communities that take them in. So far there are six families in this program, but there will eventually be a total of ten.
What this means is that there are currently over 400 new foreigners living in the town of Katerini, population 85,000. These new arrivals make up just .47% of the total population, but this is still around 400 more than there were last August, when the housing program was small, and in February, when most beneficiaries were housed outside of the town.
I asked Alexandra about this, curious to know how local residents were responding to the new arrivals. While the town itself has 85,000 people, all 400 of the new arrivals moved into the same part of town – they all live close to the center of the town, most of them just a short walk away from downtown.
Alexandra was pleased to tell me that the Greeks were happy to have the new arrivals and no trouble was being made. She told me that most of the families in the PERICHORESIS programs have cash cards from the UNHCR and they spend all that money at local shops – giving the local economy a boost. The families stay in Katerini for the most part and buy everything that they need from small stores in the heart of the town: food, clothing, school supplies, kitchen tools, etc. In addition, landlords are now getting stable income from aid organizations in exchange for renting their apartments to refugees, giving local Greeks more money in their pockets to spend locally as well.
The Greek economy is still rough and many local families feel the effects of that, causing them to grumble occasionally about the work with refugees, but on the whole, things are going well in this town. The Greeks have opened themselves up to the foreigners in their midst and things continue to improve with time.