Leaning over a trestle with a dozen other students, Fazle Rabbi, a Bangladeshi asylum seeker, learns to make a network cable, hoping to improve his chances of finding a job in Greece.
“If I get good grades at this school, I think I’ll get (a job) as a computer technician,” said the 18-year-old, pliers in hand.
Fazle Rabbi is one of dozens of vulnerable people who follow vocational training provided by the non-profit organization Odyssea.
In an upstairs classroom, another group learns to use the software of a wood carving machine.
In the Rentis industrial zone near Piraeus, Odyssea has already helped 2,500 beneficiaries, and some 3,000 others are seeking to register.
Odyssea focuses on “people who feel they do not have the same chances of integrating into society, who feel discriminated against”, explains Thodoris Kostoulas, mechanical engineer and program manager within the NGO.
Founded in 2016 – shortly after more than a million refugees arrived in Europe – the organization named after Homer’s epic helps these exiles find jobs in post-crisis Greece , where unemployment is still 13%, 28% for those under 25.
It helps migrants who are not eligible for integration programs supervised by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
– “Not at all easy” –
Yannick Carlos Wafo, a 27-year-old Cameroonian, was not granted refugee status and was therefore not admitted to IOM’s support program, Helios.
“Integration in Greece is not at all easy,” says Wafo, who eventually took an electrician course at Odyssea and is currently employed as a plumber.
While more than 6,000 refugees in Greece have attended Helios’ six-month courses, tens of thousands of asylum seekers are not eligible.
Stella Nanou, spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees in Greece (UNHCR), argues that Helios can “fill critical gaps” for refugees. “However, the needs are great and specific integration programs or projects must be complemented by a broader comprehensive national strategy,” she told AFP.
– Remains of canoes –
An initiative similar to Odyssea is led by ANKAA, a Greek NGO created in 2017 and registered in Luxembourg.
In its premises in the popular Kypseli district, the group has so far helped a thousand migrants, notes the project manager, Dora Bakatselou.
“We are an organization which responds to real needs”, she said, estimating that “the Greek state is struggling to set up integration programs”.
ANKAA also has an online store selling organic cotton coronavirus masks, backpacks, pouches and other items made from the remains of rubber dinghies used by migrants to reach Chios and Lesbos.
In addition to training and job search assistance, the NGO offers English and Greek courses, and provides a library.
At Odyssea, online cooking and bartending classes are also offered, while other on-site equipment provides training in 3D printing or plumbing.
Many candidates are looking for work in social media, IT and the hospitality industry.
“More than 70% of our beneficiaries keep their jobs,” notes Jai Mexis, founder and CEO of Odyssea, seated among carved wooden furniture. “And in addition, they evolve within companies”, he adds.
“Every employer knows that there are certain jobs that the Greeks will not do … They must therefore find alternatives, and we are one of the best choices for them”, adds Thodoris Kostoulas.
According to a survey carried out by the Focus Bari institute and the NGO HumanRights360, nearly 62% of companies that hire migrants say they have made this choice due to the lack of Greek manpower.
“There is room for the professional integration of migrants and refugees into the Greek labor market, as they are not, to a large extent, competing for the same jobs as the Greek population”, comments Thodoris Bogeas in integration charge for HumanRights360.