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Refugee Week Greece Arts Festival Runs Through June 26th

Refugee Week Greece
Refugee Week Greece will host events throughout the country through June 26. Credit: Refugee Week Greece

Refugee Week Greece, which bills itself as a community-led arts festival celebrating stories of migration, runs through June 26th in specified locations throughout the country.

The June 20th start coincided with World Refugee Day, an international day designated by the United Nations to honor refugees around the globe. Organizers say it is an occasion to build empathy and understanding for their plight and to recognize their resilience in rebuilding their lives.

Refugee Week Greece—the first time the country has hosted the annual event—includes cultural events and workshops, lectures, stand-up comedy shows, and mentoring sessions.

Events are taking place in Athens, Thessaloniki, Lesvos, and Crete among other locations.

Organizers say Refugee Week honors “the resilience of people seeking refuge.” It is a “global and dynamic movement, a cultural festival celebrating the contribution, creativity and authenticity of people having experienced forced migration,” according to the event’s description.

The event “aspires to build a stronger collaboration between various stakeholders that can share and create a positive message for refugees,” organizers said, “one that [encourages people] to change our everyday lives and work on more inclusive societies together.”

Refugee Week is an initiative of Athens Comics Library in collaboration with Counterpoints Arts and is supported by the Comic Relief Across Borders program, the Municipality of Athens, and the Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors.

World Refugee Day organizers say a refugee’s fundamental rights in seeking safety include the right to humane treatment in seeking asylum with safe access and no pushbacks or discrimination.

Greece’s Refugee Crisis

For years, Greece has been grappling with a massive refugee crisis at its borders, and in recent months has been criticized for pushing back migrants attempting to seek asylum.

In May, the head of the EU border agency, known as Frontex, resigned following allegations the agency was involved in migrant pushbacks from Greece’s borders. Last year, the EU’s anti-fraud watchdog, OLAF, opened an investigation into Frontex over allegations of harassment, misconduct, and migrant pushbacks.

Forcing would-be refugees away from a border before they can reach a country and claim asylum is considered a violation of international refugee protection agreements, which hold that people should not be expelled or returned to a country where their life and safety might be endangered.

Greece strongly denies it engages in pushbacks. In late March, an investigation by the country’s national transparency watchdog concluded it found no basis for reports of migrant pushbacks by authorities.

In April, Greece announced a sharp drop in the number of migrants and asylum seekers in the country, particularly on the Aegean islands.

Minister of Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarakis said the population of migrants on the North Aegean islands dropped from 6.41 percent of the total population in March 2021 to just 1.13 percent in March 2022.

“All regions of the country are well below the 1 [percent] threshold we had set as our target in 2019; soon the North Aegean will follow suit,” he said. The largest decrease has been recorded among residents in Samos by 90 percent, followed by Chios with 80 percent, Lesvos with 78 percent, Leros with 72 percent, and Kos with 23 percent.

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