“The lived experience of refugees and migrants makes them invaluable contributors to political discourse and policymaking”

The Greek Forum of Refugees

We recently interviewed Yonous Muhammadi, Co-founder and Director of The Greek Forum of Refugees, an organisation we are supporting through our ideation grants programme and making great progress towards a more inclusive and hopeful politics in Greece.

QUESTION. The Greek Forum of Refugees is already more than a decade old. What are some of the accomplishments you are more proud of?

The Greek Forum of Refugees has a rich history extending over a decade, during which we have achieved important milestones in defending the rights and dignity of refugees and migrants. Started as an asylum seekers’ movement in the streets and parks of Athens, we have emerged as an active and effective advocacy organization in Greece and Europe.

One of our first achievements is our role in defending the creation of an independent asylum and reception system in Greece. We have been actively advocating for policies and initiatives that ensure that refugees and asylum seekers are treated with dignity and respect, and we continue to push for reforms that prioritize their human rights and well-being.Our commitment to combating hate crime and hate speech has been recognized with the Extraordinary Activism Award from Human Rights Watch. Through our efforts, we strive to create an inclusive and non-discriminatory society where all individuals, regardless of their background, can thrive.

At the heart of our mission is the empowerment of refugee and migrant communities. Initiatives such as the Self Advocacy Team (SAT) enable refugees and migrants to advocate for their own rights and needs, giving them access to decision makers and decision-making processes. This initiative has been the basis for projects such as DEPART (Developing effective policies for migrants and refugees through SAT-based policy-making processes), which was funded by the European Commission’s AMIF program and has been successfully implemented in all EU Member States.

Our commitment extends beyond national borders, as we actively participate in debates and reflections on migration and asylum at both national and European level. We are proud to be a member of the European Commission’s Expert Group on Migration and Asylum, where we directly influence policy decisions that affect the lives of refugees and migrants. In addition, GFR is elected member of the Bureau of the European Migration Forum of the Economic and Social Committee of the Eu. At a local level, we work closely with municipalities to organize Migrant and Refugee Integration Councils, the only institutional body that provide access to decision-making process for refugees and migrants in local level. This grassroots approach ensures that their voices are heard and their needs are addressed at the community level.

Finally, our commitment to political inclusion is demonstrated through our efforts to promote refugee and migrant candidates to progressive parties for local, national and European elections. By encouraging their active participation in the political process, we strive to create a more inclusive and representative democracy. Our journey has been marked by resilience, dedication and a firm commitment to building a more just and inclusive society for all.

QUESTION. You applied for a Multitudes grant after realizing an increasing interest from political parties in Greece in having refugee or migrant candidates in their lists. Why do you think this happened and how are you willing to influence this tendency?

The growing interest of political parties in Greece to include refugee or migrant candidates in their lists reflects the increasing recognition of the importance of diversity and inclusion in politics. As a refugee-led organisation committed to promoting the meaningful participation of refugees and migrants in decision-making processes, the Greek Forum of Refugees welcomes this trend as a positive step towards greater representation and empowerment. We believe that the shift towards the inclusion of refugee and migrant candidates on political party lists is due to a number of factors. First, there is a growing awareness of the valuable perspectives and experiences that refugees and migrants offer. Their unique insights into the challenges facing their communities as lived experiences experts, make them invaluable contributors to political discourse and policymaking.

Second, the need for political representation that reflects the diversity of society is recognised. By including refugee and migrant candidates, political parties try to show that they can better address the concerns and interests of the society and these communities, ultimately it should lead to more inclusive and responsive governance, but, unfortunately still we need more to do to overcome the tokenism and achieve meaningful inclusion and representation in politics. As an organisation, GFR is committed to influencing this trend by actively supporting the effective and meaningful inclusion of refugee and migrant candidates in the political process. We try to empower refugee and migrant communities to participate in politics by providing support and resources to individuals who aspire to run for political campaigns.

Through initiatives such as the Democracy4all campaign, we raise awareness of the importance of political participation and support policies and solutions to overcome the barriers and facilitating the inclusion of refugees and migrants in decision-making processes. We also work with political parties to encourage the recruitment and support of refugee and migrant candidates, highlighting the benefits of diversity and representation in politics. Drawing on our expertise and networks, GFR aims to create an environment where refugees and migrants are not only welcomed as candidates and decoration of candidacy lists, but actively supported and empowered to take on leadership roles in politics. We believe that by amplifying their voices and perspectives, we can contribute to a more inclusive and democratic society for all.

QUESTION. Another of your main goals is expanding the right to vote. What are some developments and challenges in this area?

Expanding the right to vote is indeed a crucial goal for the Greek Forum of Refugees and particularly for our initiative Democracy4all, as we advocate for the full political integration of refugees and migrants into Greek society. Although, it is a very sensitive issue, but, over the years, we have observed developments and of course, there are important challenges in this area as well.

First, we had an experience of the right to vote for migrants and refugees in local elections back in 2010, which gives us hope that it is possible to achieve it again.The important development is the growing recognition of the importance of political participation for refugees and migrants. There is growing recognition of their right to vote as key members of society, contributing to the debates and decisions that affect their lives. This recognition reflects a hope for us for a broader shift towards inclusiveness and equality in democratic processes.

However, several challenges remain in extending voting rights to refugees and migrants. A major challenge is the constitutional, legal and administrative barriers that limit their access to the right to vote. In Greece, eligibility criteria for voting exclude those not having Greek citizenship, from participating in elections. Addressing these legal barriers requires advocacy and policy reform to ensure that all residents, regardless of citizenship status, can exercise the right to vote in local elections. Through our initiative, Democracy4all, we want to start a discussion how to overcome this critical barrier. Another challenge is the lack of awareness and information about voting rights among those who have the right to vote among refugee and migrant communities. Many individuals may not be aware of their voting rights or how to register and participate in elections. Language barriers, cultural differences and lack of information efforts further hinder their participation in the electoral process. In addition, there may be social narrative, prejudices and stereotypes that marginalise refugees and migrants, undermining their confidence and willingness to participate in politics. Overcoming these barriers requires comprehensive efforts to promote civic education, raise awareness of the right to vote and combat discrimination and stigma against refugee and migrant communities.

Despite these challenges, GFR remains committed and trying at lease to initiate a dialogue and discussion for the voting rights of refugees and migrants in Greece. Through our Democracy4all initiative and other advocacy efforts, we work to raise awareness, mobilize support and advocate for policy changes that ensure equal access to political participation for all regardless of their background. By addressing legal barriers, promoting civic participation, and challenging stereotypes and prejudices, we try to create a more inclusive and democratic society where everyone’s voice is heard and valued.

QUESTION. Is there anything you have learned in the last years that you would like to share with other political changemakers? Something you think they should absolutely think about when approaching these types of initiatives?

╬čver the years, the Greek Forum of Refugees (GFR) has gained invaluable insights into effecting political change and fostering inclusion for refugee and migrant communities. One crucial lesson we’ve learned is the significance of grassroots empowerment and community involvement in shaping policies and initiatives. Mobilizing communities, particularly motivated and enthusiastic individuals within them, is key to driving meaningful change. Their passion and commitment often fuel advocacy efforts and amplify our collective voice.

In addition, securing resources, especially funding, is vital for effective communication, campaign strategies and messages. In addition, building alliances with the local or host community is essential. Working with various stakeholders within the community helps to gather broader support and solidarity, making our challenges and issues everyone’s concern. This holistic approach fosters a sense of shared responsibility and encourages collective action towards addressing the systemic barriers faced by refugee and migrant communities. Ultimately, by prioritising community mobilisation, securing resources and building alliances, we can create inclusive and more equitable societies for all.

QUESTION. And finally, what is your experience with the support provided by Multitudes so far?

Our experience has been extremely positive and effective. For the first time, we had funding resources dedicated to political participation to reimagine politics. This support has allowed us to launch our initiatives Democracy4all, which we have long aspired to create but lacked the resources to do so. Multitudes’ support has given us hope to more strategically support our shared goal of creating a human and inclusive politics for a strong democracy that works for all. Their help has been instrumental in providing us with the platform and resources we need to start dynamically our mission of promoting full political inclusion, empowerment and social justice for refugees and migrants in Greece and beyond.