A Day in the Life of a Cultural MediatorGreece has been a gateway for people fleeing their home countries and seeking international protection and asylum in Europe since 2015. They come from a number of different countries and many are staying at sites supported by the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), with funding from European Union Humanitarian Aid (ECHO). As the refugees and asylum-seekers represent a variety of cultures and languages, cultural mediators play a key role in ensuring the effective communication of the beneficiaries with all actors.
At the Skaramagas site in Greece, Souhell, Fotis and Zalmay are sitting in a small wooden shed, which holds the helpdesk for inhabitants of the site, who seek assistance. The three of them all represent different backgrounds and work as so-called ‘cultural mediators’, where their role is to assist the people at the site in their everyday lives. This includes providing translation services in their native language, general information and guidance, as well as referring cases to legal aid or protection services within DRC.
“We are the bridge between the beneficiaries, the host community, the NGOs and the Greek authorities. Due to the cultural differences, you need someone who understands all sides, in order to implement the appropriate activities”, says Souhell from Syria, who arrived in Greece, in the summer of 2016.
“We need to respect the persons of concern and trust them. Most of their questions are related to their residence and their future in Greece”, explains Zalmay from Afghanistan. “We also need to be polite and very accurate, when translating, so that we are certain that we get their message across”, adds Fotis, a Kurd, who came to Greece in 1999.
DRC is implementing humanitarian support to ensure protection of and dignified living conditions for asylum seekers in Greece. It also provides Site Management Support in 10 mainland sites. Helpdesks have been established in most sites, as a focal point where beneficiaries may always request the input of a cultural mediator.
Cultural mediators are also involved in activity planning and community mobilization within the site, including the organization of sports, culturally-appropriate recreational activities, awareness raising sessions and the provision of support to community committees.
“We have a good relationship with the community. Even when they complain and argue with us, they return with smiles on their faces, because they know that we are always there and that DRC will immediately assist them, in times of need”, says Souhell.
He remembers meeting an unaccompanied minor from Aleppo, who made a special impact on him. The boy was around 16 years old, and his whole family had died on their way to Greece.
“When he arrived in Skaramagas site, he was in utter shock, shaking and refusing to talk to anyone”, he recalls. “A few days later, he visited the DRC helpdesk, asking what was going to happen to him. He started talking about his family and his journey, and was considering his next steps. After that, he kept visiting us and sought advice about what to do. The last time I saw him, I was facing a smiling boy, who was about to be reunited with his uncle in Germany".
Zalmay has been living in Greece, since 2001. He remembers how he once accompanied a 45-year-old man to the hospital, who suffered from severe social anxiety and refused to exit the container in which he lived, during the day.
“One time, as we were waiting for the bus together, he confided in me about his thoughts and worries. I explained that no one leads a perfect life and that we need to find joy on our own. That’s why I urged him to get out of his container, even if just for a quick morning walk in the park”, says Zalmay.
To his surprise, his words of advice were not ignored. Later on, he kept meeting the man on site, who gradually overcame his social anxiety.
“In the beginning everything seems hard. If you are willing and you make an effort, you will be able to succeed and integrate into the Greek society”, Zalmay concludes with a smile.