The bonds that we’ve formed with the women we met in our Athena Centre on Chios does not end when they are finally allowed to leave the island. In summer 2018, we opened the Halcyon Days Project in Athens where we reinforced our mission to provide safety, support and hope to women fleeing persecution, conflict and violence. Participants of the Halcyon Days Project had access to non-formal English classes (in partnership with Action for Education), livelihoods development, legal and psycho-social support. It became a thriving community for 150 women daily. The need for a holistic program to support refugee women who experience gender based violence and respond appropriately to survivors is becoming increasingly urgent. Existing services for GBV survivors (including shelter, mental health and psychosocial, reproductive health and legal) are scattered throughout the city and often lack qualified female interpreters for refugee women. The complex urban fabric of the city and language barriers can create anxiety, stress, re-traumatisation as survivors are forced to re-tell their story, and ultimately, result in reduced access to appropriate care.
With the election of a new centre-right government in July 2019, extreme anti-immigration measures have been deployed starting with the closure of multiple squatted housing projects in urban Athens, limiting access to public health services, decongestion of the islands – just to name a few, and with the Greek Parliament implementing detention centres, this is causing women to go underground and resorting more to traffickers. Those who are already in Greece are facing destitution with evictions from the ESTIA program, making them vulnerable to exploitation and are therefore at heightened risk of GBV. This includes the risk of trafficking, and with little to no opportunities for dignified work, many women are forced to engage survival sex, in exchange for basic needs such as housing and money for food.
We have always prided ourselves in being independent to respond to dynamic changes in the challenging operational environment in an agile manner. This motivation gave birth to the Pomegranate Project – a first of its kind programme run with and for women offering a holistic protection and empowerment model to enable recovery and healing for women at risk and survivors of gender-based violence, which includes livelihoods and learning for meaningful integration within Greek society.