ReROOT Output

Researcher Interview: -Could we coexist with refugees like Karditsa?

An article about ReROOT Site Research Emilia Voulvouli's research in Karditsa (both radio and online print) in Stonisi media.

Below is an unofficial translation from the Greek.
Lesbos has a long tradition of solidarity for the benefit of vulnerable individuals, regardless of economic status, age, religion, or ethnicity. However, it could coexist more equitably if local authorities provided employment opportunities and empowerment for a more meaningful coexistence with everyone and everything.

We spoke with our fellow islander, Emilia Voulvouli, a Social Anthropologist, Researcher at the University of Thessaly, and Lecturer at the University of Macedonia. Since 2021, she has been studying asylum seeker integration through the ReRoot: Arrival Infrastructures for Newcomers project (, which runs at several European universities. The program’s scientific coordinator is Professor Paschalis Arvanitidis from the Department of Economics at the University of Thessaly. The discussion with the researcher was prompted by her interesting lecture at the University of the Aegean on the topic: “Arrival structures for international protection seekers: Institutional and non-institutional processes.”

Emilia specifically discussed the example of Karditsa, although her academic team also studies Katerini and Thessaloniki as successful integration models. She explained that Karditsa has a strong tradition of supporting vulnerable groups through the Municipality’s Development Agency. As a result, fertile ground was found for refugees and asylum seekers arriving from the islands to find employment and coexist peacefully with the locals. The overall integration was further supported by the Estia program, funded by the UNHCR in collaboration with the Karditsa Development Agency, using European funds to provide housing. However, the program ended on December 31, 2022, resulting in the gradual transfer of refugees to Larissa camps. Emilia emphasized that the departure was heartbreaking not only for the refugees but also for their friends in Karditsa, with whom they had developed warm relationships.

The difference between what we knew until now and what is happening on Lesbos regarding the coexistence of different worlds lies in the following points: The implementing body of the program is not a non-governmental organization but the local community itself, represented by the Karditsa Development Agency. Additionally, this agency had already cultivated a culture of integration and substantial support for vulnerable individuals within its community. Furthermore, support is not based on charity but on inclusion and equality, aiming to empower the beneficiaries.

You can listen to what Emilia told us:

Through the refugee hosting program managed by the Karditsa Development Agency (ANKA) of the Municipality of Karditsa and funded by the UNHCR, 300 refugees and asylum seekers were accommodated in apartments in 2019 when I visited the area. Simultaneously, ANKA worked to highlight employment opportunities for refugees. During this time, I had the opportunity to meet two cousins from Afrin, Syria, who found work in Mr. Vaiopoulos’ sheep farming unit. Hekmat, who had worked as a butcher since childhood, was well-versed in the job. On the other hand, Mustafa, laughing, admitted he knew nothing about it and was seeing so many sheep and goats for the first time in his life. “I miss my home in Afrin,” he added, “but I’m more concerned about being safe with my family,” he explained.

George Vaiopoulos, who has been the president of the Agricultural Cooperative of Cattle and Sheep Breeders of Western Thessaly since 1988, did not discriminate. He said, “I never thought about whether someone was a foreigner or a local when it came to work; as long as they wanted to do the job, that was enough.” He continued, “I’ve been impressed by the respect they show for the work and the task. They learned everything very quickly—I never expected them to have the courage to be so hardworking.”

Food for thought indeed, especially considering that two months ago, a local event in the Kara Tepe camp hosted entrepreneurs interested in hiring asylum seekers. The example of Karditsa demonstrates that such actions not only do not exacerbate divisions but also benefit the community
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