My Name is Ayinde

Volunteer Words
June 9, 2022
5 min read
Ayinde Ishola

My Name is Ayinde Ishola. I have been living in Greece since 2012, based in Thessaloniki since 2013.

My coming to Greece wasn’t planned at all. It just happened. A good example of how every situation can change in the blink of an eye. Today you might feel safe but things change quickly.

Travelling several days, even months, by road or crossing the sea... lots of lives have been lost on this journey. And the luckiest ones are left with long-term trauma. This experience has led me to be more aware of the inequality of challenges faced by third-country nationals – including regular migrants, refugees, beneficiaries of subsidiary protection and undocumented migrants – who face compounded difficulties in terms of their fundamental rights and are more exposed to the risk of poverty or social exclusion.

That’s why we all should be more compassionate and have a sense of empathy towards all refugees and asylum seekers – regardless of race, colour, or country of origin – who were forced to leave their country, leaving everything behind. It was never a decision made willingly.

I used the word “all” here to emphasise the discrimination and the hypocrisy of European governments when it comes to the solidarity being shown with Ukrainian citizens fleeing from war. Don’t get me wrong - this is a welcomed step judging from what they have been doing in the previous years, but the same solidarity needs to be shown towards everyone without discrimination. According to their very own Law, the EU – is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities (Article 1 of TEU) This includes all humans, non-Ukrainian Refugees as well.

According to the UNHCR, over 84 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes. Among them are over 26.6 million refugees, the highest population on record.

Personally, my integration into Greek society was not an easy ride. There were a lot of challenges and obstacles. Some of the biggest were the bureaucratic and technical challenges, which are tremendously discouraging. But with determination and persistence, we can overcome them. That’s why I use my own story to give hope to my fellow migrants, and refugees, telling them they can also do it if I could.

The reality, however, is that the political approach taken by the Greek government toward the integration and inclusion of refugees is extremely problematic. On the one hand, it does not seem to be a common priority and, on the other, the initiatives that have been taken so far have been very disappointing for many people. For instance, how does building a concrete wall surrounding a refugee camp benefit integration into the local community? You can’t be spreading the word about integration and inclusion and the next thing you do is build a wall! Refugees are not criminals.

What the Greek government and all stakeholders need to understand is that the issue of social inclusion of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants is extremely crucial for strengthening social cohesion. I firmly believe a strategic action plan is needed to foster social cohesion and to build an inclusive society for all. One of the ways this can be achieved is to give space and create pathways for refugees, not only to talk about their problems and needs, but to propose solutions and achieve an harmonious coexistence based on common acceptance.

During the first four months of 2022, 7,894 people have – by the Greek government’s own figures – arrived in Greece but not been registered as having done so. That is, they have been illegally pushed back to Turkey. In the mainland, a series of three-metre-high concrete and iron have been erected at camps all over the country. They will cost at least €28.4m in total (the amount of EU funding the Greek government is using to build them) for 26 mainland camps: more than €1.09 million per wall (Synelefsi, February 1st 2022). Credits photo: Jannik Kiel.

Having experienced this difficult situation of being a refugee and immigrant in Greece, witnessing also the peak of the so-called refugee crisis in 2015 while being a university student and becoming aware of my role and responsibility as a future defender of human rights, urged me to engage with volunteering actions. The feeling of being helpless and being a victim of bureaucracy, in combination with each government's political choices, urges me to offer help to my fellow humans who are now in the same position as I was.

I try to be of help in the best possible way. It has always been my dream and passion to be part of a collective movement, using my academic knowledge to support the most affected and vulnerable groups, such as refugees and asylum seekers, victims of human trafficking and abused children, to only name a few.

During the end of my university studies at the Faculty of Law at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, I was looking for a grassroots organisation that bases its work on impacting and improving lives of their fellow humans without prejudice or discrimination. This is what brought me to IHA. I have been very surprised and thrilled from the very first moment. IHA’s philosophy is all about Human Dignity and putting this dignity first, unlike some other organisations that seek profit from the pain of refugees and people in need.

“The feeling of being helpless and being a victim of bureaucracy, in combination with each government's political choices, urges me to offer help to my fellow humans who are now in the same position as I was.” — Ayinde Ishola.

We run a few projects with different purposes and reach.

The warehouse project serves as a logistical hub for humanitarian aid, with thousands of refugees in Northern Greece benefiting from its scope. We source supplies locally and receive aid deliveries from abroad, responding to emergency situations, and focusing on closing supply gaps for refugees and small organisations that lack institutional support. This even extends to other European countries at times.

Another project of IHA’s is in Lagadikia, a tiny village located just outside Thessaloniki, where you can find our Community Centre. Here we support refugees and asylum seekers with essential supplies such as food, hygiene articles and clothes, providing long-term support in addition to responsive aid. It’s an inclusive centre that offers a safe space to all people living in the area, be it in the camp or the village. It provides opportunities to develop skills and broaden horizons, as well as creating a location for cultural exchange and amusement.

Over the month of March, IHA’s Warehouse team delivered a total of 28,303 items to partners and camps across Northern Greece, including diapers, food, clothing, hygiene articles, and Corona-related items.

All of the services and activities offered at the Community Centre are run by international volunteers, local Greeks, and volunteers who live in the Lagadikia refugee camp, ensuring that we provide a wide range of community-led projects. This includes English and Greek classes, a Child-Friendly Space, a Women's Space, as well as the Employability Information Centre which is the department I am running with another volunteer.

We mainly support refugees and asylum seekers who are living in Lagadikia camp and Lagadikia village residents with anything related to employability (CVs, Cover letters, job searching, job applications, professional development workshops). We assist the camp residents with receiving useful information about topics relevant to their cases and in getting used to a life in Greece (including information about the asylum process, service mapping, current social situation and integration programmes).

I’m very happy to be part of this service. I strongly believe information is power, and we have managed to stimulate a positive result, by connecting people with local employers that offer local jobs. These successes might look small but they go a long way to strengthen our clients’ self-confidence.

EIC appointment in Lagadikia Community Centre. During the last quarter of 2021, this service offered support to clients through 90 appointments, completing 36 CVs, 14 job applications, and offering two workshops based on employability in Greece. Five clients were hired during these four months.

Though IHA doesn’t get the media attention it deserves, we are doing a great job. Putting human rights and dignity first through humanitarian action, IHA bases its power on strengthening civil society beyond national borders, creating a collective movement led by a group of volunteers coming together from different backgrounds. Each one of the volunteers I have met here brings their own experience and passions, working together to help refugees and asylum seekers while advocating for their rights.

So I am inviting every one of you to join our collective movement in IHA, because it's a movement I strongly believe in; it's a movement that fights daily to protect human dignity that concerns all of us.

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