By Nikolaos Angelakis, Deputy Mayor for Education, Longlife Learning and Youth Issues
Heraklion, our city, aims to become a learning, smart, cohesive city – a meeting place of “5+1 cultures”. That’s why we have created “The Local Strategic Plan for Lifelong Learning 2017-2020: Heraklion – a Learning City”. We intend to build a sustainable city with quality, effective structures of social support and extended networks of solidarity, along with a powerful cultural and touristic identity, a strong contribution to the local economy and entrepreneurship. We want to invest in people and society, providing opportunities and flexible forms of learning. We aim to accomplish integration for all through education as the new GEM Report policy paper on cities and refugees describes.
Throughout its history, our city has been depicted as a host as a hospitable one for people who, for various reasons, have departed from their homeland, seeking a new life. Supporting all vulnerable social groups is a continuing priority. Many structures, programs and acts are solely dedicated to that. To acknowledge the progress in and commitment to promoting education and lifelong learning the city has been awarded this year the Learning Cities Award during the 4th UNESCO-UIL conference on Learning Cities
Promoting inclusion through sports and educational activities based on local culture and tradition
The Department of Social Policy of the Municipality implements programs to tackle and eradicate poverty and social exclusion and creates programs for the integration of immigrants and refugees into the socio-economic and cultural life of the local community. One of these is the «Social Inclusion of Refugees through Sport -FIT FOR ALL» program. This program is run by our Municipality via the Social Department and the European programs Department, in collaboration with our Municipal Sport Organization, local sport clubs, local authorities and non-government organizations.
‘Fit for all’ is based on the belief that sport can create particularly favourable conditions for the integration of refugees into society. Through the program refugees participate in all sport activities of the city, in the same areas and programs that locals use They are educated on a plethora of issues, such as local culture, customs as well as traditional dances, Olympic and Paraolympic Sports, physical Activity, health and nutrition, and the values of Olympism, such as Excellence, Friendship, Respect and Peace.
The Lifelong Learning Centre is responsible for adopting and implementing Lifelong Learning programs for unemployed and working people regardless of gender, educational level, age or background. Thus far, about 3000 citizens have been benefited from these programs and we anticipate an ever greater participation in the future. We have already accepted 68 new applications to learn ‘Greek for foreigners’.
A “Community Center” and a “Refugee Integration Center” provide a one – stop – shop service to support the basic needs of citizens and residents. Both centers cooperate to provide, among other things, information on adult language courses and support to learning for migrant children and for beneficiaries of international protection at the preschool and school age. In cooperation with the Municipality’s “Refugee Integration Council” they also connect to a wide network of partners that work on education, whether through awareness seminars in Teachers’ and Parents’ Associations or by collaborating with schools to help raise students’ acceptance of diversity.
We believe that the design and operation of Greek language programs is crucial for the inclusion of refugees into the local community. This is why free Foreign Language Learning Programs are provided for refugees in collaboration with the Hellenic Mediterranean University using the European online platform “ERASMUS PLUS OLS“. Also, a volunteer Syrian teacher taught Greek language to women refugees in the Refugee Integration Center, which has seen 1,951 beneficiaries since its inception.
Showing political will
As a response, to the increasing number of refugees (65% more refugees arrived in Greece between 2017 to 2018) the Mayor of Heraklion, Mr Vassilios Lambrinos has agreed that our Municipality will be included in the UNHCR’s Emergency Support to Integration and accommodation programme: “ESTIA – Accommodation of asylum seekers in Crete“. To implement this Program, which is funded by the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), the Municipality of Heraklion has cooperated with the Heraklion Development Agency since 2017. According to the latter, thanks to this programme approximately 700 asylum-seekers are accommodated free of cost in Heraklion Municipality in rented apartments.
The program includes the subproject “Pilot Program for Supported Independent Living of Unaccompanied Minors” with two key aims: providing Greek language courses and the inclusion of adolescents in secondary education or vocational schools.
The Municipality of Heraklion also participates actively in networks at national and local level. It has for example signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with the Municipalities of Athens and Thessaloniki through which the Municipalities have agreed to cooperate so as to organize and implement coordinated actions and interventions for refugees at the local and national level.
To support the implementation of this Memorandum, a “Network of Cities” was also created with the participation of thirteen (13) Municipalities that host a large number of refugees in Greece (Athens, Agios Dimitrios Attica, Heraklion Crete, Thessaloniki, Ioannina, Karditsa, Larissa, Livadia, Nea Philadelphia Attica, Piraeus, Trikala, Tripoli and Tilos). Within this network of cities, partnerships were also developed between the Municipality of Heraklion, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), UNHCR and UNICEF. In 2019, three-day training seminars were held, involving A ‘and B’ Grade Education teachers, Heraklion Municipality staff as well as employees from other Departments and Agencies of our city. The purpose of the training was to inform by raising awareness of immigrants and refugees, of the protection and inclusion of refugees and asylum seekers and to improve networks between authorities and agencies that are in direct contact with refugees and migrants.
Throughout all these efforts, we aim to ensure that every single citizen has the chance to participate actively in the public life of our city.