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GREECE: Interview with Greek Forum of Refugees – Protecting the most vulnerable means protecting us all

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Migrants and refugees’ communities want to be part of the discussion on the solutions

Read our interview with Moussa Sangaré, Ivorian Community of Greece, Greek Forum of Refugees, one of the seven laureates from the Civic Pride Awards of 2020.

Every week, I had video calls with members of my community to ask what I could do for them as the President [of the Ivorian Community of Greece] and what we could do together as a community. A big issue was that many members had lost their jobs; this was the case for many people in Greece. Their first need was to survive inside the house, to find what to eat. We had a meeting inside the Greek Forum of Refugees, and we decided to start a fundraising online to collect money and provide vouchers so that people could buy food. We raised over 5000 Euro. We bought a lot of vouchers from the supermarket and distributed them to different communities and to homeless people without discrimination”, Moussa Sangaré, Ivorian Community of Greece, Greek Forum of Refugees.

The Greek Forum of Refugees is an association of refugees and migrants’ communities based in Athens. The main goal of the network is to empower these communities to advocate for their rights and their obligations as potential citizens of Greece and Europe. During the COVID-19, they raised funding to distribute voucher to use in supermarkets to migrants and homeless people.

Can you tell us about the Ivorian Community of Greece and the Greek Forum of Refugees? 

The Ivorian Community of Greece is a community organisation composed for the majority by people from the Ivory Coast – my country – but in the statute we are open to everyone; we welcome any nationality without discrimination. We have some members from European countries or from other countries in Africa. We are a diverse organisation, but the aim is to promote the Ivorian culture in Greece and to work for the integration of Ivorian people in Greece. We support our members with anything they need. We do not only work on problems, but also on the solutions. We advocate for the rights of the Ivorian people and of our members on many issues: discrimination, employability, housing, integration, education…Because we are very diverse with different needs, we are working on many issues, not only on a specific one. I am a person of action rather than words, so it is difficult to list all the actions I did! 

One day, I learned from one member of our community about the organisation called ‘Greek Forum of Refugees’ that works with migrants and refugees’ communities, for the self-advocacy of these communities. Since I believe that when we are together, we are stronger and we can do anything, I want to have networks on every level: national, European, international … for that reason the Ivorian Community of Greece joined the Greek Forum of Refugees and, a few months later, I was elected to be a member of the Board at Greek Forum of Refugees. Now I am the Vice-president of the Forum. Inside the Greek Forum of Refugees, we have different  communities , such as the communities from the Ivory Coast, from both Congo-Kinshasa (Ed.: the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Congo-Brazzaville (Ed.: the Republic of the Congo), from Afghanistan, Burundi.. We are involved in many issues: the rights of refugees, of migrants, of Greek people, of humans… Anywhere there is to advocate for rights, we are there. We communicate with the Greek Government because we believe it is key to finding solutions. It is true that there are problems in Greece. But we, migrants and refugees, do not want to be only beneficiaries of services of the government or NGOs. We also want to give our point of views and help to find solutions. We have to do things together.  

What pushes you to be an activist in Greece and what is it like to be a refugee activist in the country? 

I think I was born an activist. In reality, my activism did not start in Greece, it started when I was born. I never wanted to see injustice, poverty and human rights not being respected. I started from my family, from my neighbours. When I was given money to go to school, I used this money to help poor children, who did not have shoes or food for example, while I was also a child. 

In my country (the Ivory Coast), there is also a problem of ethnic discrimination. I come from the North, I am a Muslim, and when I was little, the governments there targeted Muslims of the Ivory Coast as rebels or foreigners. One of the reasons of the war in my country was ethnic discrimination. I lost a lot of people close to me during the war and I left my country. And it was another reason for me to remain an activist. 

When I arrived in Greece in 2012, I was arrested by the police at the borders and I was sent with other people in a detention centre (in jail). I truly believe that the people who make the laws on the detention of refugees and immigrants do not respect human rights. They certainly do not have an education on the value of the human being; they sign some documents, but they do not know what happens outside of their offices. Maybe they even think it is the right thing to do. I was in detention for seven months; it was very difficult. Then, thanks to my phone, I found a lawyer online and I proved to her that I came to Greece because I was in danger in my country. She went to Court and the Court decided to release me. I came to Athens, and that was also difficult because at that time the Golden Dawn Party members were attacking and killing refugees and migrants368. I was afraid to go out because I felt that at any time I could be arrested [Ed.: by the police] or killed [Ed.: by the far-right squads]. That is then that my desire to be an activist started to grow more and more. I started to learn about how things were going in Greece. Back then, there was no organisation, no community for Ivorians. So, I decided to change this so that we can face all the difficulties here in Greece together as a community. I am still trying to learn how to change things, how to advocate for change. 

How has the pandemic impacted your community and your activism? 

Since I founded the organisation in 2018, I have done many actions – as I said I am a man of action. So, when the pandemic started, I had many contacts and many people came to me asking how      they could help. But, to support my community, I needed to learn what the needs of our members were.  

When I learned that the first case of COVID-19 happened in Thessaloniki, I used our platform to quickly inform the members of the community about what the virus was, what we had to do and what we had to avoid doing. I shared the news from the Greek government about what was happening in Greece and also in the world. Every week, I had video calls with members of my community to ask what I could do for them as the President and what we could do together as a community. A big issue was that many members had lost their jobs; this was the case for many people in Greece. Their first need was to survive inside the house, to find food. We had a meeting inside the Greek Forum of Refugees, and we decided to start fundraising online to collect money and provide vouchers so that people could buy food. We raised over 5000 Euro. We bought a lot of vouchers from the supermarket and distributed them to different communities and to homeless people without discrimination. Other organisations also helped. Some members of my community could not go out during the pandemic because they do not have documents, so I went with my car to buy groceries for them. I was going outside every day to find solutions for my community. I had a lot of positive feedback from them. The Greek Forum of Refugee did not keep these vouchers only inside community members, we helped anyone who needed help! We shared everything with other communities from Mali, Guinea…  We also have an African solidarity group with communities from six countries now. We did not want to only focus on one community, we wanted to focus on all people in need. So we also helped homeless people regardless of their identity. 

Are you and other migrants and refugees’ communities also organised transnationally?  

I am not in contact with other communities outside Greece, except for other Ivorian diaspora communities. But we are part of some big organisation in Brussels, for example I am a Board member of PICUM [Ed.: the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants].  

Do you think that the European Union can be an ally in your struggle? In what way? 

Yes, the European Union can do much better. The problem is the willingness.  

What lessons can be learned from this initiative that can potentially inform a post-COVID-19 institutional and societal response? 

Now we know that ‘we are in the same boat’ – this is an expression that I like to use a lot! It means that the Coronavirus does not discriminate. In face of the virus, we are all the same. And I think that many people now understand that security of refugees and migrants means security for all. So, we should work all together for a better future. Through cooperation we can change things. In the past, there was a lot of violence but it decreased thanks to the work of civil society. What was happening in 2012 cannot happen now. I appreciate what civil society does in Europe and everywhere in the world. If we continue these actions, we will all have a better life. 

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