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.


Pelosi pursues articles of impeachment against Trump, says democracy at stake

Updated 06 December 2019

Pelosi pursues articles of impeachment against Trump, says democracy at stake

  • House panel could approve impeachment charges by Dec. 12
  • Trump assails “Do Nothing” Democrats, vows: “We will win!“

WASHINGTON: Warning that US democracy is at stake, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi directed a congressional committee on Thursday to draft articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, a historic step setting up a fight over whether to oust him from office.
In a dramatic televised statement, Pelosi accused the Republican president of abusing his power and alluded to Britain’s King George III, the monarch against whom the American colonies rebelled in forming the United States in 1776, saying that in the United States, “the people are the king.”
“Our democracy is what is at stake. The president leaves us no choice but to act because he is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit. The president has engaged in abuse of power, undermining our national security and jeopardizing the integrity of our elections,” said Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress.
At the heart of the Democratic-led House’s impeachment inquiry is Trump’s request that Ukraine launch an investigation targeting Joe Biden. The former vice president is a top contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
“Sadly, but with confidence and humility, with allegiance to our founders and our heart full of love for America, today I am asking our chairman to proceed with articles of impeachment,” Pelosi said. She had opened the investigation in September.
She was referring to Jerrold Nadler, whose House Judiciary Committee has the responsibility of drawing up the formal charges that would later be voted on by the full House.
Two people knowledgeable about the process said the panel could draft and recommend the articles of impeachment to the House as early as Dec. 12. Democrats said lawmakers would work through the weekend to get them written.
The charges could include abuse of power, bribery, obstruction of Congress and obstruction of justice.

Senate trial
If articles of impeachment are passed as expected, that would lead to a trial in the Senate. Republicans, who control the Senate, have shown little support for convicting and removing him.
Pelosi was asked what it would take for Republicans to support impeachment as she took questions at a Town Hall on CNN on Thursday night. “I can’t answer for the Republicans, they’ve taken an oath to Donald Trump,” she answered.
Trump, who has denied wrongdoing, wrote on Twitter: “The Do Nothing, Radical Left Democrats have just announced that they are going to seek to Impeach me over NOTHING.”
“The good thing is that the Republicans have NEVER been more united. We will win!” Trump said.
Pelosi’s announcement clearly signaled that she believes Democrats have the votes in the 435-seat House to impeach. She acted after receiving overwhelming support in a party meeting on Wednesday night, a source familiar with the meeting said.
The impeachment drama is unfolding at a time of deep partisan divisions across the United States that have widened during Trump’s tumultuous presidency.
The inquiry’s focus is a July 25 telephone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter, and a discredited theory promoted by Trump and his allies that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 US election.
Hunter Biden had joined the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma while his father was vice president. Trump has accused the Bidens of corruption. They have denied wrongdoing and the allegations have not been substantiated.

Security aid
Democrats have accused Trump of abusing his power by withholding $391 million in security aid to Ukraine — a vulnerable US ally facing Russian aggression — as leverage to pressure Kiev into conducting investigations politically beneficial to Trump.
Republicans accuse Democrats of trying to overturn the results of the 2016 election. They have described Trump’s actions as aimed at weeding out corruption in Ukraine, not getting political dirt on Biden.
They also argue the inquiry has failed to produce first-hand evidence showing Trump made US aid to Ukraine or a White House meeting for its president contingent on Kiev pursuing the investigations.
On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee held a hearing in which three constitutional law experts called by Democratic lawmakers said Trump had committed impeachable offenses. A fourth expert called by Republicans called the inquiry slipshod and rushed.
Nadler has given Trump until 5 p.m. (2200 GMT) on Friday to say whether he or his legal counsel will participate in upcoming proceedings by calling witnesses, introducing evidence and making a presentation. Nadler has given committee Republicans the same deadline to request witnesses.
Judiciary Democrats said the report by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller documenting Russian interference in the 2016 election could be part of testimony they hear on Monday from a committee lawyer, who is presenting evidence along with a Democratic lawyer from the House Intelligence Committee. Republican committee lawyers are also expected to testify.
Including material from Mueller’s report in an article of impeachment would demonstrate a pattern of behavior involving foreign interference in US elections, House Judiciary Democrat Pramila Jayapal said.
“What we have to think about is what gives us the strongest trial in the Senate,” she told reporters.
The US Constitution empowers the House to impeach a president for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
No US president has ever been removed from office through impeachment. Republican Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 after the House began the process in the Watergate corruption scandal.
Two other presidents were impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate.
In 1998, a Republican-led House passed articles of impeachment against Democratic President Bill Clinton, charges arising from a sexual relationship he had with a White House intern. The other president impeached by the House but left in office by the Senate was Andrew Johnson in 1868, three years after the US Civil War.
Asked if he worried that impeachment would tarnish his legacy, Trump told reporters at the White House: “No, not at all, not at all. It’s a hoax, it’s a big fat hoax.”