Project Layali: Refugees’ ray of hope amid Greek jobs drought

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Pakistani Manassif Raza with one of the first customers in his new hair salon at Athens’ Agios Panteleimonas, home to many immigrants and refugees. (AFP)
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Zari, a Kurdish refugee, at a shop opened by Project Layali which sells handicrafts made by refugees. (AFP)
Updated 02 February 2019

Project Layali: Refugees’ ray of hope amid Greek jobs drought

  • ‘Here in Greece you often have to make it by yourself’
  • Over 70,000 refugees and migrants live in the country in the wake of a mass influx of people, most of whom were fleeing war-torn Syria

ATHENS: After escaping poverty in Pakistan and spending two hard years in Greece without family or money, Manassif Raza proudly stands in his new hair salon, receiving his first customers.
“I feel more confident now that I am working, I feel my future will be better,” the Pakistani, who is in his twenties, says in the poor Athens neighborhood of Agios Panteleimonas, home to many immigrants and refugees.
His achievement is particularly precious in a nation struggling with severe unemployment, where migrants face an uphill battle to get work.
“Here in Greece you often have to make it by yourself ... I had to do a lot of undeclared work: cleaning houses or hotels, washing dishes in restaurants ... I couldn’t even afford to rent a house so I was hosted by some friends for a while,” Manassif adds.
After nearly a decade of crisis and drastic cuts in public spending, Greece’s economy is beginning to recover. Unemployment has fallen but is still the highest in the eurozone at 18 percent, and even higher among young people.
Over 70,000 refugees and migrants live in the country in the wake of a mass influx of people, most of whom were fleeing war-torn Syria.
Just 10 percent of those in Greece have jobs, says Dimitris Skleparis, a politics lecturer at the University of Glasgow working on refugee issues.
“Refugees in Greece receive no orientation or training support (from the state),” he said.
Fortunately, there are private initiatives. In 2017, Citi Foundation teamed up with the International Rescue Committee to help refugees start businesses in Greece through local partners.
One of them is chef Moussa, who came to Greece after the deaths of his parents and younger brother in Ivory Coast over five years ago.
“For me, business is first of all, do something that you like,” he says in an IRC video, which says he is now opening the first Ivorian restaurant in Athens called “Our Home.”
“All of us, we have an idea, we have a dream. I am a refugee I come to another country I try to make my dream come true.”
On the day of a visit by AFP, a group of around 20 refugees from Afghanistan, North Africa, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast sit in an Athens classroom, learning how to give a PowerPoint presentation.
They will then have two weeks to show their projects to a jury of business people and NGO staff.
Successful applicants are given a startup fee of around €1,000 ($1,140). Over 150 people have been trained by the program.
“It’s only a small amount but it’s encouraging nonetheless,” says Touria, a 31-year-old woman from Morocco.
She also wants to open a restaurant, but at the moment, Greek bank loans are hard to come by, she notes.
Another initiative is Project Layali, meaning “my nights” in Arabic, which helps fund refugee businesses and assists applicants with the onerous task of navigating Greek bureaucracy for permits.
Manassif says he was contacted by them a year ago, while he was still training to be a hairdresser.
The project “got the salon for free through someone we know,” says Marine Liakis, who is French-Greek and helped to launch the initiative.
“But to build the business, we had to gather a lot of paperwork, spend hours in administrative offices and secure funds... for a foreigner in Greece, opening a commerce is a real battle,” she adds.
Project Layali in December also opened a shop near central Syntagma Square selling handicrafts made by refugees, who receive all the proceeds.
Shaghayegh Farhang, a 26-year-old woman from Iran, is one of the artists whose objects are sold here.
“For a long time, I hated Greece because I felt I couldn’t express myself here either,” says Shaghayegh, a self-taught photographer who left her country over two years ago because of the censorship imposed by the religious authorities.
“With this project now, I start to find a new goal in my life. I want to continue my artworks and maybe study,” she adds.

Sri Lanka churches halt public services over security fears

Updated 14 min 33 sec ago

Sri Lanka churches halt public services over security fears

  • Potential bombers ‘at large’ as death toll lowered to 253
  • Muslims asked to shun Friday prayer

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s Catholic churches suspended all public services over security fears on Thursday, as thousands of troops joined the hunt for suspects in deadly Easter bombings.

A senior priest said that all public services were being suspended and all churches closed “on the advice of security forces.”

Authorities revised the death toll down to 253, from the previous figure of 359, explaining that some of the badly mutilated bodies had been double-counted.

The father of two of the suspected bombers has been arrested on suspicion of aiding his sons.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said suspects remained at large and could have access to explosives. Some of the suspects “may go out for a suicide attack,” Wickremesinghe said.

Hundreds of Ahmadi refugees in western Sri Lanka have taken refuge in mosques and a police station after facing intimidation following the bombings. Scores of Ahmadis who settled in Negombo after fleeing persecution in their home countries have been thrown out of their accommodation by landlords.

Sri Lanka’s Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando resigned on Thursday over security failures. He submitted a letter of resignation to President Maithripala Sirisena.

Britain’s Foreign Office advised against all but essential travel to Sri Lanka.

“The horrific attack is a demonstration of how tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) that originated in this island nation several decades ago returned to haunt a shocked and broken government thanks to a complete collapse of counterterrorism capability or capacity,” Dr. Theodore Karasik, a security expert, writes in an opinion piece.

Hate preacher Zahran Hashim, head of the National Thowheeth Jama’ath group that is being blamed for the attacks, developed a reputation as a preacher who “copied” Daesh propaganda videos to enhance his posts via the pro-Daesh Al-Ghuraba media channel, which used Facebook and YouTube as its primary platforms, Karasik says. 

Sri Lanka’s Islamic affairs minister, M. H. M. Haleem, asked all Muslims to avoid prayers on Friday for security reasons. He also said it would be a mark of respect for those who perished in the nation’s worst violence in years.

Politician and Western Province Gov. Azath Salley told Arab News that the blasts were orchestrated by a handful of extremists and that the island’s Muslim population could not be held responsible for their “deviant” actions.