Towards a new life: Boosting refugees’ integration through language trainingDaas Alkhatib speaks Arabic, English, Greek and understands Turkish. He is asked which language he would prefer to speak. “In Greek,” the young Syrian refugee replies, grinning with enthusiasm, “I prefer to speak Greek now that I live in Greece”.
Daas fled Syria due to the raging war more than two years ago and following a precarious journey, he settled in Athens. After some months of uncertainty, he started taking steps towards a new life in Greece. “At first I didn’t know a word in Greek”, he says. “I started looking for Greek lessons and tried 3 different courses offered by organizations until I found the ones at the University.”
From June 2017 until February 2018, the Danish Refugee Council organized the Foreign Language Education Programme (FLEARS) in cooperation with the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, with the support of the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO). During the programme, FLEARS students were able to join study cycles according to their initial level of English and/or Greek language and improve their language knowledge.
Daas was one of the 531 students who completed the A2 study cycle of the programme and points out to what made the difference for him. “These were organized language courses, there was consistence and tools which helped us. We had a specific book, and everybody was motivated to continue.”
Fauzia, 20 years old, refugee from Afghanistan
Twenty -year-old Fauzia Alizata, a refugee from Afghanistan, also attended the programme and explains what she enjoyed the most. “I liked going to the University and joining a class. I liked our teacher, Evgenia, and I still talk to her from time to time. She was strict but very kind to us. I learned more in 7 months at this programme than anywhere else,” she says.
See video about the FLEARS programme:
Both Daas and Fauzia continue learning Greek, but this time at the DRC integration centre in Kipseli. As part of its broader urban programme in Greece, DRC offers intermediate language courses, provides social services and organizes intercultural events.
These are A2 and B1 courses following the Common European Framework (CEFR) and most of the students here have attended the programme at the University,” says Flora Vlachou, one of the FLEARS teachers who continues to teach at Kipseli.
“These students are determined to deepen their knowledge in Greek,” she explains, “and they can do that especially at the B1 class where we work on negotiation skills and targeted themes including employment, finances and aspects of the local culture.”
Empowerment through learning
Daas speaks firmly about the value of language learning. “I wouldn’t be able to move on without language courses,” he says. “I don’t feel like such a stranger anymore, I am able to understand Greeks and talk to them, and I also learned many things about the culture. There is a lot more to a language than words.”
For Fauzia, mother of 2-year-old Sara, language learning is a steady path towards a normal life. “I don’t know English and learning Greek has made me more independent. I can move freely, do my own shopping and get things done,” she explains.
Each refugee, like Daas and Fauzia, has his or her own experiences, abilities and hopes for the future. After taking a deep breath having escaped life-threatening situations, they gradually settle in safety and face questions about the future. Fauzia wants to keep on the hard work and become a lawyer because, “I want to help other people like me.”
Daas will soon be able to join hotelier management courses. “I want to work in tourism in Greece, stay here and improve my skills, that is my dream. That is what makes me feel free,” he says.