Intercultural Mediation, Interpretation and Consultation at the Decentralized Services
One of Generation 2.0 RED’s most important actions on the field, was the work offered at the Decentralized Services.
On January 1st, 2014, all the services issuing and renewing residence permits for immigrants in Greece were shared from 66 municipalities to 4 Immigration Offices (IO) in the Decentralized Services in Attica. As a result, IO A’ was serving more than 60.000 foreigners. Daily, 500 to 600 people crowded the Service’s entrance, although no more than 170 people could be served on one day.
Since the launching of the One Stop Shop, a number of problems were observed which concerned the logistical infrastructure in the serving of the public, as well as the shortage of manpower. The necessary transfers of staff were not made in time, resulting in delays and ineffectiveness in the Service due to understaffing and lack of qualified staff. There was no properly designed waiting area, people were waiting in the rain and the sun, in a courtyard with no shelter, chairs or toilets. The interior of the service was a single room with no signs for the different services provided and there was no informational material on the new procedure in any language other than Greek, something that applied also to every announcement made by the service. All this, combined with the lack of intercultural mediators and interpreters, made the communication between the Third Country Nationals (TCN) and the service staff almost impossible.
People were coming 2 even 3 times to the service, waiting many hours, without managing to be served. Cunning men took the opportunity to sell seats on alleged “waiting lists”, and the cases that required priority often got lost. On the other hand, there was a long wait for simple things due to lack of information, while lawyers exploited the situation by ‘running’ cases that were closed without the knowledge of TCNs who could not understand the procedures. Injuries also occurred as 300 people huddled in the iron door to enter the service, and finally, verbal violence and fainting episodes rendered the service an unfeasible option for the elderly, the pregnant women, the disabled and women with small children.
Within all this, the presence and action of Generation 2.0 RED can be divided into three phases:
Phase I: January to March
The presence of Generation 2.0 RED to the IO A’ started the first week of the implementation of the One Stop Shop, providing free intercultural mediation and counselling services to TCNs 2 times a week.
The gap that Generation 2.0 RED covered was the management of the desperate situation in the courtyard before the public entrance to the Service. First of all, g2red members were there to give information to people about permits, renewals and documents, with simultaneous interpretation in English, French, Albanian, Yoruba, Lingala, Bangla and Urdu, both in the courtyard and inside the Service. The management of the people under these conditions was a very demanding process, while the frustration and desperation of people created tensed situations. On the same time, g2red undertook to create a priority queue, facilitating the entrance to the elderly, to women with young children, pregnant women, the disabled, and other vulnerable groups. TCNs who faced serious problems with their permit were identified and given priority also.
Phase II: April to June
To avoid the entrance in the courtyard of an excessively high number of people and to avoid accidents, in April the Organization decided to create priority lists from the previous day. The gate was locked and the entrance to the courtyard of the Service was allowed only to those who were written on the list. Emergencies (eg. Expired licenses) entered directly in the list and entrance without registration was allowed only to pregnant women, the disabled, the elderly, the sick (with a hospital paper display) and mothers with young children. Those who wanted only documents or information were served directly by the g2red members and thereby the transparency of the process was ensured and the tensed situations were normalized.
Since the first days of April, while the presence of Generation 2.0 RED became a necessity, the organization was in the IO A’ on a daily basis. On April 23, the 3-month internship of seven students of the Department of International and European Studies at Panteion University started in the Organization Generation 2.0 RED. The internship was held in collaboration with the Ministry of Interior in the IO A’, concerning Intercultural Mediation, the Course of TCN’ File, interpretation and the organizing of appointments.
The granting of space for Generation 2.0 RED within the Service shortly after the initiation of the internship, coincided with the start of an application developed by the Ministry of Interior for the online Course of TCN’s File. This software allowed the TCN to check online if his permit was issued or if there were still missing documents. Generation 2.0 RED undertook the pilot implementation of the new software, contributing substantially both to identify operating problems, and its subsequent modifications thereof, before the official implementation of the software.
In mid-June, the Immigration Offices of the Decentralized Administrations got new staff. These employees belonged to bodies that were not related or had prior experience on migration (eg. Municipal Police). The g2red undertook the basic training of ten employees who were to fully staff the newly created Department of Information. G2red members made sure to pass on the basic knowledge on Immigration and Legislation issues, especially about the New Immigration & Social Integration Code, with specialist knowledge on types of residence permits and documents, the process of issuing and the renewal of residence permits, the online Course of TCN’s File, as well as basic knowledge on the management of the crowd as well.
Phase III: July to December
The increase in the number of employees in the Service led to improved services and reduced discomfort. The total number of TCNs who were served daily increased, and so did the number of applications, from 60 to 110. The number of information given increased from 100 to 280, the priority list was removed completely, and almost everyone who came to the Service managed to make an appointment for renewal or acquisition. At the same time, the deposit of additional documents and changes of address or marital status were done in the same day. Moreover, the appointments for deposition were made directly by the Information Department. There was provision of intercultural mediation services, interpretation and translation in five languages (English, French, Yoruba, Urdu and Albanian) at all the stages of the process. Also, the installation of a shelter on the courtyard created better conditions for people waiting. The outer gate unlocked and TCNs could enter the courtyard at any time, while everyone who entered until 13:30 was served by the Service. Finally, during the day, individuals in need of priority were spotted in the courtyard and served immediately.
The goal of this action was twofold. On one hand, the services offered daily for 8 months in thousands of TCN were improved, and on the other hand their correct, effective and immediate service was achieved.
Overall, the presence of 2.0 Generation RED to the IO A’ contributed substantially to:
- Increase the number of TCNs served daily by the Office
- Free provision of intercultural mediation services, counseling, interpretation and translation so the access to the service became possible to people who did not speak the Greek language, without the necessity of a lawyer-mediator
- Facilitate access to the Service for vulnerable groups (pregnant women, elderly, disabled, women with young children)
- Manage the crowd in the courtyard of the Service
- Relieve tensions between TCN and employees of the service
- Identify problems in the software & propose changes to the online Course of the TCN’s File
- Train the new employees of the Service
- Continuous communication and close cooperation with the Ministry of Interior on the gaps, the deficiencies and the needs for modification in the implementation of the New Migration Code
On the other hand, the underlying objective of the project was to create a sense of personal responsibility of the foreigner for his papers.
Generation 2.0 RED explained all the stages of the processes, busted myths like “my lawyer will take care of my papers”, “the renewal is a difficult process and I cannot do it myself”, by explaining that everyone’s papers are a personal responsibility and not one of a lawyer, father or husband, because an error or a delay could cost them their permission. All the children of the second generation were urged to engage themselves in the renewal of their permits and to apply for the second generation’s permit, as well as parents were urged to push their adult children to engage and get familiar with the procedures. A very important understanding was that the lawyer is a choice, not a necessity, that the services of IO A’ and the information is free for everyone, and anyone who asks for money is an exploiter and must be reported, while the employees of the Service are there to help as much as they can.
Generation 2.0 RED believes that the essential trust between the employees and the TCNs can significantly reduce the number of people facing problems with their papers. At the same time, creating a personal sense of responsibility regarding the papers and the personal involvement of each TCN with them, is a step towards the creation of responsible people and the elimination of exploitation networks.