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36th session of the Human Rights Council – Permanent Representative’s intervention from the panel during the side event on “Overcoming refugee and migrant precarity: what role for social and solidarity economy?”, which took place in Geneva on 20 September

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

36th session of the Human Rights Council – Permanent Representative’s intervention from the panel during the side event on “Overcoming refugee and migrant precarity: what role for social and solidarity economy?”

The Permanent Mission of Greece in Geneva proudly co-sponsored this side-event on solidarity economy, organized by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Economy and supported by the University of Geneva and the “Social Protection of Human Rights” on 20 September 2017, in the margins of the 36th Human Rights Council.

36th session

“Esteemed panelists, dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for joining us today at this side-event, whose main purpose is to explore alternative ways of providing assistance and, most importantly, providing perspective to refugees and migrants in need.

Allow me from the outset to say that we are extremely honored to be asked by the main organizer, the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, to co-sponsor this significant event. Their overall work in promoting social development is of vital importance and this side-event is both timely and innovative.

Dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

It goes without saying that migration and refugee related discussions are of paramount importance to Greece. Managing migration is more than ever before both a challenge and a necessity. No one country alone can deal with this issue effectively and efficiently it is a shared global responsibility which calls for global response and global burden sharing.

In Greece, having found ourselves in the receiving end of an unprecedented migration / refugee crisis in Europe’s recent history, both the Greek people and the Greek government have done their outmost to, first and foremost, save lives at sea and to welcome and provide basic assistance to refugees and migrants reaching our shores. We have been faced with an overwhelming number of asylum applications at the same time when a large number of irregular migrants are still arriving via the Eastern Mediterranean sea and land routes.

Greece has been addressing this situation every day for the past two years now, in a time of grave economic and financial constraints. Despite this reality, my country has devoted, and still does, tremendous efforts for the protection of the fundamental human rights of these people, especially of the most vulnerable amongst them. And indeed, one could argue that some shortfalls still exist; however, as you very well realize, we were confronted – literally overnight – with an unparalleled situation and our capacities are limited.

Coming now to the issue at hand, I would prefer to leave it up to the distinguished experts to better explain the concept of “social and solidarity economy”. From my part, I would just like to brief you on a few recent developments and policies adopted by the Greek government related to this topic.

In October 2016, the Greek government adopted new legislation which aims at facilitating the creation of a supportive and conducive legal ambiance regarding the development of “social and solidarity economy”. In essence, Law No.4430/2016 aims at establishing this new type of economic activity in order to address the ever alarming problem of unemployment. Even before the recent financial crisis, unemployment has been a major concern of all Greek governments. However, as one can only imagine, this problem has reached new numbers, especially affecting young people, during the recent financial crisis. In addition, the arrival of such an overwhelming number of refugees has shaped a new reality on the ground.

Hence, the recent Greek legislation aims at facilitating the establishment of various forms of cooperative, associative and solidarity structures, including, inter alia, women’s self-help associations, social enterprises and fair trade organizations and networks, beneficial to the host society and to refugees as well. For example, setting up vocational training programs, providing free legal aid, organizing hospitality accommodation facilities, all these and more hold a lot of merit in addition to the overall efforts already undertaken. This Law helps secure the core concepts of the cooperative culture, such as solidarity and parity between members, participatory democracy in decision-making mechanisms, economic activity that isn’t solely focused on profit but, nonetheless, provides a basic wage and various services to local communities. Amongst others, the Law establishes important supportive structures such as Regional Support Centers aiming at providing free support and advice for those wishing to become active in social and solidarity economy projects. This effort constitutes an overall horizontal priority for the Greek government.

An additional reason why this legislation and relevant policies are significant in relation to the refugee / migrant crisis is because “social and solidarity economy” holds considerable promise for addressing the economic, social and environmental objectives within the scope of sustainable development, as noted by the UN Task Force on Social and Solidarity Economy. The creation of cooperatives, mutual societies, associations and social enterprises, whose purpose is the pursuit of collective welfare and job creation, bearing in mind the general social interest as well as the possibility of earning a basic living, are essential for those granted international protection and their integration into local communities. It is every state’s responsibility to implement the 2030 Development Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, and in this context “social and solidarity economy” could serve as one more vehicle towards their fulfillment.

In relation to addressing the needs of refugees, I cannot stress enough how vital the concept of integration is and will be in the years ahead. It is only through peaceful, overarching and suitable integration in host societies that we offer genuine protection and perspective to people in need. For example, in Greece we have already developed a program for people granted asylum with the purpose of teaching them the Greek language, in parallel with training programs aimed at the development of appropriate technical skills. This is where the “social and solidarity economy” can play a pivotal role in these integration efforts, by providing job opportunities to those entitled to international protection. Let us not forget the positive contribution that refugees can make in local communities of host countries through such measures, while at the same time raising awareness in combating racism and xenophobia is crucial.

Apart from that, as you may already be aware, Greece has also adopted a free access to education and basic health services policy for refugees and migrants, aiming at better providing for the fulfillment of these crucial necessities and essential human rights of health and education.

Esteemed panelists, ladies and gentlemen.

I would like to stop here and give time to all to listen and learn from the experts.

Thank you very much for your kind attention.”