Food Distribution Program for Needy Immigrants in Ierapetra, Crete, Greece

Project location: GREECE, Ierapetra
Project start date: September 2013 - Project end date: November 2014
Project number: 2013-043
Beneficiary: Crete for Life Onlus




Greece - the main entry point into the European Union for Asian and African migrants - has long struggled with illegal immigration, a situation worsened by a deep economic crisis that has boosted anti-immigrant sentiment among Greeks.  In a recent report, Amnesty International said the tens of thousands of migrants who cross into the heavily indebted nation each year struggle to lodge asylum claims, face appalling conditions in detention and racist attacks at the hands of far-right groups. 
According to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Francois Crepeau, migrants in Greece face shocking conditions in detention centres and deepening hostility on the streets as the country goes through its worst economic crisis since World War Two. Many of the 130,000 mostly African and Asian migrants trying to enter Europe via Greece each year go short of food, heating and hot water, including children. In the same report he warned that xenophobic violence in Greece has reached “alarming proportions,” and accused Greek authorities of doing nothing to stop the attacks.
According to the Wall Street Journal (15/9/2012) border-control statistics shows that almost 60% of Greece's illegal immigrants are from either Afghanistan or Pakistan. Political asylum is sought by some—more than 2,400 Syrians fleeing the country's civil war have been apprehended at the Greek-Turkish border since last July. But the vast majority are young men and families seeking work because the job market where they lived was devastated by war or terrorism. Nearly all must pay smugglers, who in some cases deposit them in small plastic dinghies to cross rough open waters. Those who survive may face horrific conditions in Greece trying to make the next leg of their journey.
Ierapetra is a town of around 26,000 inhabitants in the south east of Crete. There are a number of immigrants from the Middle East and Pakistan in particular, that go through the area looking for work in the local green-houses and olive groves. Their already hard situation is aggravated by the local ill feeling towards Muslims and in these difficult times for the Greeks, a lot of anger in vented particularly against darker skinned emigrants. The economic crisis has given rise to a dangerous new form of nationalism—and the extreme right wing party Golden Dawn’s “Greece for Greeks” policy has fomented blatantly racist outbursts that would have been inconceivable in Greece a short time ago.
While in Ierapetra there are social services that provide necessary aids and food for needy individuals and families, these have to be regularly registered with the police and local authorities, and Greek nationals are given precedence. Thus there is absolutely nowhere for forced and passing immigrants without documents to go and receive food, help or any assistance. Nowadays, even occasional work is very rare, and when it is found, the wages paid are around Euro 10 to 20 per day; often these forced immigrants have no alternative but to steal food, further increasing the local community's ill feelings against them.
The center for distribution of food for needy and forced emigrants in Ierapetra, Crete  addresses an immediate intervention programs for those who live in situations of extreme economic and social hardship and wants to be an opportunity for acknowledging and connecting with those who have nothing or very little. 

This project received a grant from the Nando Peretti Foundation. Forced immigrants will find some relief in having necessary food given to them for free and it is hoped that being acknowledged by part of the local community will help restore some of their dignity, hope and well being.
Crete for Life members and  Fr. Marek Ryfa have volunteered to distribute dry/tinned food stuffs to the needy in Ierapetra. He will announce the programme, through the pulpit, once he has available products. In addition to the church, forced emigrants can easily be contacted by word of mouth by the volunteers, in this small community.
All patrons will be welcomed but the volunteers will be able to address patrons who are entitled to receive help somewhere else, to the dedicated local social services. Thus it will be possible to concentrate the resources on those who have nowhere else to go. Initially there will be one day of distribution, at a definite time, probably each Sunday, to give a chance to those who work to come and collect what they can.
All food offered will be prepared and distributed in the maximum respect of the religious and cultural traditions of the people at the receiving end.  Long life products that it is believed will be needed is pasta, rice, long-life milk, tinned food, sugar, etc. These can be purchased at discount distribution centres on Crete and solicited locally as donations in kind. Father Marek will store a small quantity of products in the vestry of  Ierapetra’s Catholic Church. For those who have no way of cooking for themselves, cooked food will be made available. 
Although it is difficult to estimate how many forced emigrants live in the area at any time, we plan initially to cater for between 50 and 100 people per month. The vast majority of these young men and families are obliged to leave their country to seek work because their lives have been devastated by war or calamities. It is hoped that thanks to this project, forced immigrants will find some immediate relief in having at least some necessary food given to them for free, in a mutually respectful and dignified exchange.

Crete For Life was founded in 2005 by Olimpia Theodoli after noticing how the warm local hospitality and beautiful natural environment of the island brought back memories of happy childhood days spent by the sea: who would benefit more than children who have not been given a fair start in life? The association offers free recuperative breaks by the Cretan sea to vulnerable children and young adults, and generally supports children and young adults in need in improving their present quality of  life and their future prospects. Crete For Life is a registered charity both in Italy and Greece, it is the first and only program in Greece of its kind, and the first Cretan children charity.  Members of Crete For Life have joined forces with the local Catholic priest in planning the center for distribution of food for needy and forced emigrants in Ierapetra, Crete, Greece.
The Catholic Parish of Heraklion, Crete, was founded many centuries ago. It is not known when the first church was built. In Ierapetra, however, the catholic centre was started in 2007 and the present church was built shortly after.  Fr. Marek Ryfa was born in Kanczuga, Poland  in 1977 where he was ordained a priest  in 2003. Until 2007 he had been working in his Diocese in Poland. From 2007 he has been working in Greece, and in 2008 he was nominated Associate Pastor of the Parish of Saint John the Baptist in Heraklion, Crete. He is currently based in Ierapetra. In a short time he has been building up the local Catholic community, serving both Ierapetra and the area of Lasithi.

The NPF awarded the third grant for this project for activities to be completed by December 2015.

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