Under the shadow of the trees a group of children is making garlands, flowers and animal figures out of cardboard in the open accommodation site of Schisto, located in the southern suburbs of Athens. Shortly afterwards, a blackboard is set up in the same place and a Greek language class starts with the help of games and pantomime. At the adjacent container, that has been transformed into a play room with board games, puzzles and crafts, 5-year-old Nadima is proudly showing the painting she made for her newborn brother. Her mother is resting with her baby in the special mother/baby-toddler space, where she enjoys counseling and support for her and the newborn. In another outdoor space nearby, a group of teen boys repeats aloud phrases in English, while the girls are eager for their turn to come.
A «Blue Dot», well visible and easily recognizable, is present in all the premises of the Children and Family Support Hub (CFSH) that offers multiple services and activities. It is the logo and brand name of the «Blue Dot Hubs» Project, implemented by UNHCR with funding from the European Commission – Humanitarian Aid.
The project was launched in February 2015 by UNHCR, UNICEF and ICRC, aiming to step up protection for the growing number of refugee children and women in Europe. The first Hubs were set up along the Balkan route with a view to provide safe spaces for vulnerable families on the move towards North Europe, and in particular for children, many of whom are traveling unaccompanied or separated from their families. After the closure of the Balkan route, the Blue Dot Hubs addresses the refugee population remaining in countries that once were merely transit points.
«The aim of the Blue Dot Hubs Project, funded by the European Commission, is to provide to beneficiaries a standardized, consistent and predictable package of services, in relation to protection, psychosocial support and recreation. The project includes child-friendly spaces providing special recreational and educational activities and support, special spaces for mothers and babies/toddlers where counseling regarding pregnancy, breast feeding and child care is offered. It also includes information points about the conditions and rights of refugees, as well as private areas for individualized counseling and psychosocial support to identify and refer cases of domestic and sexual or gender-based violence, to provide assistance in psychiatric cases, to identify and support unaccompanied children and facilitate family reunification» explains Dora Tsovili, Focal Point at the National Level for UNHCR’s Blue Dot Hubs Project.
In Greece, UNHCR’s Child and Family Support Hubs under the Blue Dot Hubs Project are fully operational in Schisto, Elliniko I, Elliniko III in Attika, at Cherso, Nea Kavala and the city of Thessaloniki in northern Greece, as well as in Kara Tepe on the island of Lesvos. In Diavata and Lagkadikia (Northern Greece), most Blue Dot Hubs services are operational while efforts are being made to have basic services on the ground in Alexandria, Skaramagkas and Lavrio. There are also efforts to cover remote areas through mobile units.
Blue Dot Hub at the open accommodation site in Schisto. © UNHCR/Yorgos Kyvernitis
The Blue Dot Hub in Schisto, a site that accommodates mainly Afghan refugees, was one of the first set up by UNHCR, in collaboration with Save the Children and the Network for Children’s Rights, as implementing partners for child friendly spaces and mother/baby and breastfeeding areas. «Under the umbrella of the Blue Dot Hubs Project, many services are delivered in parallel by other humanitarian actors and organizations. These include Action Aid which provides psychosocial support for women; the International Red Cross which undertakes restoring family links; and SOS Villages implementing some educational and sports activities. These are just some of the services provided, as we go on identifying the gaps and mobilizing forces to meet as many needs as possible in the best possible way», says Dedousis Diaourtas, member of UNHCR Field Office in Attica.
Offering children a sense of security and normalcy
«We share a lot of time with the children, and they feel that we are here to support them. They trust us», states Suhail Esmat, Child Protection Officer with Save the Children and head of the organization’s team in Schisto. Thanks to their systematic work, many unaccompanied or separated from their families children have been identified in this site. The necessary procedures for their special care and protection have been initiated and the process of tracing their families is underway by the International Red Cross.
A lot of the children living in Schisto have been exposed to traumatic experiences and have been deprived of childhood itself and the carefree condition they should enjoy. The Blue Dot Hubs Project makes every effort to offer children living under great uncertainty a sense of security and normalcy. Every day, except Sunday, a group of animators -including educators and preschool and primary education teachers- deliver a fixed schedule of activities and courses for different age groups of children. There are also two sport trainers and a football and volleyball field.
Children study near the Blue Dot Hub at the open accommodation site in Schisto. © UNHCR/Yorgos Kyvernitis
«All these activities have been planned to empower children by providing them with a steady routine and a sense of positive perspective. This is of utmost importance for children that haven’t attended school for months or years and now live in a site out of town, isolated, with nothing to do all day», says Ifigeneia Mouchtsi, member of the Network for Children’s Rights on the Blue Dot Hubs Project’s child friendly space in Schisto. «The goal is for those children to have access not only to games and creative activities, but also to education, to learn as much as they can for as long they remain here and to be taught the first 100-200 Greek words, so that they can go to formal school, if they are still here».
This is what 16 year-old Zohreh, would like. She hopes she can get to Germany where her young brother lives. But until then, she doesn’t want to waste a minute, as she says: «I follow most of the classes and activities provided here. But my favorite one is English. To me, English is a valuable tool for communicating with others and it’s very useful for my future. I would like to become an interpreter and help refugees like me».