All posts by Aude Sathoud

Prisoners of lockdown – The double seclusion of refugee and asylum-seeking people

If the pandemic outbreak and consequent lockdown measures have impacted us all, changing our habits, challenging our balance and narrowing our horizons, the most vulnerable of us – among which refugee and asylum-seeker populations, have had to struggle with specific issues.

While we all share a common fear of getting infected by the virus, we are not equal facing it, and some of us, due to their conditions of life or fragile health, are at a greater risk to both catch the virus and develop a severe form of the disease. Living in shelters, crowded shared apartments if not in camps or in the streets, most refugee and asylum-seeking people do not have the possibility to respect measures of physical distance. Most of them being unemployed – waiting to acquire the refugee status to get a legal job or having lost theirs due to the sanitary and economic crisis, thus living on a very low or nonexistent income, they often times do not have the means to afford masks nor hydroalcoholic gel for themselves let alone a whole family.

Less protected from the virus, asylum-seekers moreover may not be able to access the appropriate healthcare services if they get infected. The majority of them, waiting for the decision concerning their request for asylum or having received a rejection, indeed does not possess the required papers to be allowed into a hospital.

As it is the case for us all, threats on asylum-seeking and refugee people’s health are not only physical ; those times force us into a mental struggle as well. The general atmosphere, which may not be too disturbing or unfamiliar per se to some refugees and asylum-seekers, who have lived through other epidemic experiences in their countries of origin, can however revive some traumatic memories of those periods. The promiscuity of the collective dwellings they live in, while preventing any protective sanitary measure or isolation, makes even more difficult the creation of necessary spaces of loneliness and self-care, peaceful breathing and mental escape. In this context of tension, uncertainty and forced cohabitation, violence is on the rise – women, children as well as LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum-seekers are particularly vulnerable.

Meanwhile, the mobility restrictions and closing orders on many activities and public services slow down NGOs and asylum services’ functioning, in a moment when they probably are the most needed. To the uncertainty of one’s future and silence of authorities thus add a feeling of double-isolation, and sometimes abandonment from organizations, nonetheless working endlessly to adapt and meet ever-growing needs.

In those times of great restrictions, going for a walk seems to remain one of the last freedoms we have. Yet, even such a moment of pleasure and relief becomes a challenge and source of anxiety for asylum-seeking people who fear being controlled and arrested at each step.

And while most of us, when this situation comes to an end, will be free again, for others, lockdown, which was never an “exceptional state”, will remain.

Cooking Without Borders – Our Online Cooking Lessons

While borders remain closed, streets empty and parties impossible, Za’atar NGO is committed to build bridges, make people meet, cultures mix and create communities. What a better way to do so than through what we all share – and cherish, food and cooking ?

If Tastes of Damascus, the restaurant of our social enterprise, Layali Project, cannot open its doors and embark curious customers on a tasty trip, everyone can now travel in senses from their own kitchen. How ? By joining our weekly  live cooking lessons, bringing together refugees and Greek people ! After cooking dinner altogether, following the instructions of the restaurant’s team, participants share a well-deserved dinner, to the sound of the guitar or voice of a guest singer or musician.

From Athens to Beyrouth, from France to Venezuela or the United States, they are tenths of chefs-to-be to have joined us since the launching of this series of events. Together, we have flown to Syria, Algeria, Cameroon, each time learning local recipes and discovering new cultures. Many more destinations are to come. An enthusiastic and friendly group of people, coming from all walks and sizes with the same wish to live a nice moment of sharing and bonding, is waiting for you.

Do not miss out on our future trips !

Check out our website and Facebook page to stay updated on all our projects.  

Building BRIDGES – Za’atar NGO, Partner-Organization of a European Research Project

Convinced of the importance of education in the process of inclusion of migrant and refugee people in society, Za’atar NGO has always had for mission to offer free language and skill classes as well as professional trainings to its beneficiaries.

It thus is as an actor of education and from civil society,  that the organization was invited to join a European consortium of research dedicated to improving inclusion in Higher Education, and take part in the ambitious project BRIDGES. Its goal : “diversifying knowledge and tackling discrimination through civil society participation in universities”.

This initiative, co-funded by the Erasmus + Programme of the European Union and the Servicio Español para la Internacionalización de la Educación (SEPIE), runs from October 2019 to July 2022, bringing together actors of Higher Education and civil society from Spain, Germany, Greece and the United Kingdom, under the coordination of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

Through this international and diverse partnership, inspired by Participatory Action Research methodologies , the project aims at producing four outcomes :

– a Virtual Lab accessible by all, on which will be displayed the different products and results of the research ;

– a Toolkit of concepts, exercises and strategies to challenge hegemonic discourses and dismantle exclusionary mechanisms operating in Higher Education ;

– a Course, ““Inclusion Without Discrimination,” aimed at current and future Higher Education instructors, which will be delivered in the second year of the project ;

– a Monograph, Diversifying Knowledges, Building Inclusive Societies: Theories and Methods of Narrative Productions., co-authored by all the participants, retracing the whole research adventure and elaboration of the narrative productions and participatory curriculum design, in order for them to be appropriated and replicated by all those who whish to engage with such a challenge.

Za’atar NGO is proud to be part of such an exciting project and intellectual journey, combining action and thinking for change.

Learn more about BRIDGES here.

In and Out – our ATLAS LGBTQ+ discussion groups

In those times of lockdown and social distancing, LGBTQ+ refugee and migrant people are particularly vulnerable.

While the safe spaces where they could find some relief and solidarity have closed, Za’atar NGO, in the framework of its ATLAS program, is working on opening some virtual parenthesis, to enable moments of lightness, friendship and breathing. Each week, two one-hour online meetings are held, in French and English, where participants can join in to share stories, feelings, memories and dreams, laughter and tears. Words and silences.

Our ATLAS LGBTQ+ meetings take place every Thursday or Friday on Zoom. You can join us by sending a message to the Orange House phone: +30 69 40671 666.

Find out more about Za’atar NGO and our other initiatives by visiting our website and Facebook page.

“Innovation and refugee women : an inspiring leadership” – Conference at the French Institute of Athens

On October 1st, our cofounder, Marina Liakis, was invited to a roundtable dedicated to the empowerment of refugee women through entrepreneurship, “Innovation and refugee women : an inspiring leadership”.

Her telling of  the experience and projects of Za’atar NGO, the Orange House and Layali Project was one of the numerous inspiring testimonies and stories that were shared on this rich evening, hosted by the French Institute of Athens in the framework of the cycle of conferences “Jeunesse Innovante” (Innovative Youth), in partnership with The Cube. From football stadiums to the kitchens of migrant and refugee mothers, participants took the audience on a journey of passion, encounters and commitment to gender justice and the inclusion, fulfillment and empowerment of all.

Catch up with this great conference by clicking the following link:

Find out more about Za’atar NGO and our other initiatives by visiting our website and Facebook page !

Empowering all.

Back in May of this year, Za’atar NGO celebrated its fourth anniversary. Four years through which we learnt and reflected a lot – on humanitarian work, what it means to volunteer, to empower, and more. That is why, on this occasion, we had the idea to share with potential volunteers and fellow NGO workers four lessons we learnt those past four years.

After finding the good balance and position towards the people you have chosen to inform, accompany and support, having reflected on the complexity of the relationship tied between volunteers and beneficiaries, time has come to think about the eventual unconscious biases one may have towards the latter and perhaps should question in order to fulfil their mission as a volunteer to the best.

Za’atar Summer Series 2020 – 4/4

Empowering all.

Refugee, asylum-seeker and migrant people come from all walks and sizes, bearing their own story, each following their own path, facing their challenges while sharing the pain of one’s flight, the loss of one’s home and the will to build a new, safer, better life. However, once arrived in Europe, they may, depending on their origins and national public policies regarding immigration, find themselves in a variety of situations, and have a more or less easy access to resources. A great number of services aiming at refugee people offer a translation in Arabic and Farsi while French, which is the main language talked by people coming from Sub-Saharan Africa, is often forgotten, for example. The same can be said of housing policies, which favour some groups over others – based on an appreciation of their reasons for migrating, of course, those are not arbitrary decisions. Some similar or different forms of discrimination, more or less conscious, can also be observed within humanitarian organizations.

It is not rare to see volunteers spending some time and getting familiar with English-speaking beneficiaries – while English is not Greece’s national language. By doing so, however, they encourage people to learn and practice a language they themselves, foreign volunteers, speak and often have as a mother-tongue rather than those refugees and asylum-seekers’ integration into the Greek society, which cannot be possible without the tool of language.

Volunteers indeed tend to pay more attention to or be more friendly with beneficiaries who resemble them, exchanging with a young westernized English-speaker man rather than a middle-aged pious African woman trying to learn Greek, for instance.

All those behaviors are obviously not surprising considering humans, as social beings, are attracted to what looks familiar, known, and therefore, friendly. They, consequently, have to overcome mental barriers to exchange with individuals who appear or act in different, unknown, strange ways. However, when working as a humanitarian volunteer or worker, when undertaking a mission of support and empowerment of migrant, asylum-seeker and refugee people, it perhaps is of our responsibility, as human beings and social actors, to go beyond our prejudices and preconceptions, to overcome our fear of the Other, the unknown, the stranger-coming-from-far-away, in order to approach, exchange with and welcome them.

In this regard, progress could be achieved by simply raising awareness on those unconscious tendencies and bias one may have, through dedicated training and information. Because being willing to work among foreign people, volunteering with migrant, asylum-seeker and refugee people, does not mean one is completely emancipated from social constructs and prejudice.

And because empowerment begins with the eyes you chose to lay on the other.

Za’atar NGO is proud ! Athens 2020 Digital Pride

Covid-19 will not stop the LGBTQ+  community from celebrating its pride, raising awareness on its issues and defending its rights.

In this exceptional time of sanitary crisis restricting public gatherings, Athens Pride 2020 festivities are going virtual. From September 4th to 11th, a series of events is taking place online to commemorate, advocate for and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community.

As a proud actor of the promotion and defense of LGBTQ+ rights, Za’atar NGO will, once again, be present to Pride, through an online session of presentation of their dedicated program, ATLAS, by cofounder and director Marina Liakis, on September 11th at 1pm. This will be followed, at 3pm, by an intervention of Tony Haouam, university professor specialized on race and gender studies and head of the Pedagogical Commission of Migr’ENS – French organization that teaches French to asylum-seekers while accompanying them to navigate the French administration and legal system, and consultant for the NGO.

Since 2016, ATLAS (Aid To LGBTQ+ Asylum Seekers) initiative has been offering a safe and friendly support group for LGBTQ+ refugees, their family, and friends. In coordination with ATLAS, Za’atar built a program designed to ease the transition into European life for these individuals. It provides a variety of services such as:

  • Operating a Helpline for LGBTQ+ refugees worldwide in Farsi, Arabic, French and English
  • Providing a safe space at The Orange House for people of all sexual orientations and genders
  • Teaching the broader refugee community about LGBTQ+ rights
  • Ensuring all volunteers are LGBTQ+ friendly
  • Organizing LGBTQ+ social events to enable members of the community to meet and exchange with one another.

In those particular and challenging times of pandemic, movement restrictions and increased anxiety, LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers are even more vulnerable. The ATLAS program and line have seen a rise in the number of calls and beneficiaries. This is a reminder of the precariousness of an already vulnerable population that Pride is also there to shed light on and support – which is the message Za’atar  NGO will make sure to spread.

Contact us by searching ‘ATLAS (Aid To LGBTQ Asylum Seekers) on Facebook or LGBTQ/, calling +30 694 067 1666 or emailing

Find out more about Za’atar NGO and our other initiatives by visiting our website and Instagram!

Volunteer-beneficiary: a complex and specific relationship.

Back in May of this year, Za’atar NGO celebrated its fourth anniversary. Four years through which we learnt and reflected a lot – on humanitarian work, what it means to volunteer, to empower, and more. That is why, on this occasion, we had the idea to share with potential volunteers and fellow NGO workers four lessons we learnt those past four years.

A journey is a story of landscapes, noises and flavours, bodies and faces, discoveries and encounters. This becomes even truer when travelling to volunteer – being part of a team, working alongside people from all walks and sizes to accompany, support and empower migrant, refugee and asylum-seeker people.

Za’atar Summer Series 2020 – 3/4

Volunteer-beneficiary: a complex and specific relationship.

Welcoming them all, meeting new faces every day, recognizing some as time goes on, one may find themselves share common tastes or thoughts, privileged moments or conversations and create a beautiful bond with one or a few beneficiaries. From human to human, suddenly connecting, beyond prejudice and borders.

However, one should not forget the specific framework and complexity of the volunteer-beneficiary relationship. Any interaction between a volunteer, working for an NGO whose mission is to accompany and support a specific group of vulnerable people, and one of its beneficiaries, implies an undeniable power dynamic. The former indeed finds themselves in a position of material, legal and existential stability and comfort while the latter surely lives in precarious conditions preventing them to navigate the environment as easily and freely, and therefore requiring some help or assistance. Keeping this in mind, working with a will to empower is a way to challenge this hierarchical relationship and give the beneficiaries the access, knowledge and means to achieve their own autonomy so that they, one day, do not need those services anymore.

In such conditions, deepened ties with one beneficiary may inevitably lead to some kind of favouritism in a framework where neutrality and equal treatment for all is required, to the detriment – and perhaps incomprehension of all the others. Beneficiaries may as well believe that, by tying strong links with volunteers, they could have an easier access to goods or services – housing or money, to the risk of establishing a situation of dependency.

Therefore, while approaching beneficiaries with benevolence, warmth and kindness is important and precious, being aware of the conditions, limits and asymmetry of the relationship one, as a volunteer in their work space, can build with vulnerable people they are in charge of accompanying and supporting on their way towards self-reliance and autonomy, is essential. 

And this, to achieve one’s mission as a volunteer to its best – that is, to empower all.

Getting ready.

Back in May of this year, Za’atar NGO celebrated its fourth anniversary. Four years through which we learnt and reflected a lot – on humanitarian work, what it means to volunteer, to empower, and more. That is why, on this occasion, we had the idea to share with potential volunteers and fellow NGO workers four lessons we learnt those past four years.

Za’atar Summer Series 2020 – 2/4

Getting ready.

Now that you have reflected on your will to help and take action by volunteering, time has come to get ready for the adventure.

As you will have understood it by now, volunteering is not a common experience. Flying abroad to work for an NGO is not like taking a vacation – and it can actually be better! That is why, as any work and any adventure, volunteering requires preparation and planning, curiosity and learning.

Buy a guide, surf the Internet, and ask questions! Get to know the culture of the country and area you are travelling to, memorize a few words of the local language, list the places to visit and sites to discover in order to immerse yourself in this unknown culture.

But do not stop there!

Volunteering with refugee, asylum seeker and migrant people in Greece or Athens does not only mean getting familiar with Greeks’ culture and habits, best dishes and music. Meeting people from all walks and sizes, arriving in Europe from Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia or the Middle-East, implies to be informed on all of this too – their origins, cultures and paths, while always remembering every individual has their own story. Educating yourself on what it means to be a migrant, an asylum seeker or a refugee – in general and, more precisely, the Greek situation ; the countries those people mostly come from and the common motives for their migration, as well as the challenges and hardships they may have been through, is very important before starting to volunteer.

Indeed, ignoring those preparatory steps may lead to some misunderstanding or negative reaction from people whose interaction codes, beliefs and values are different. If discomfort is important and mistakes necessary, learning about people’s backgrounds and making an effort to think differently, look at the world from another perspective, is both a form of respect and an enriching and humbling human experience.

Which is the whole point of the journey, right? 

Why volunteering?

Back in May of this year, Za’atar NGO celebrated its fourth anniversary. Four years through which we have learned and reflected a lot – on humanitarian work, what it means to volunteer, to empower, and so much more. That is why, on this occasion, we had the idea to share with potential volunteers and fellow NGO workers Four Lessons we learned these past four years. 

Za’atar Summer Series 2020 – 1/4

Why volunteering?  

Sitting on the bed of my first student flat, facing my phone camera, waiting a little nervously for the interview with a Za’atar NGO member to start, I remember asking myself again if this was what I wanted to do and why, if volunteering was the right thing for me, 18-year-old French political science student back then. 

Learning about the “refugee crisis” from afar, through sensational media representation and apocalyptic political discourses, it is easy and somehow tempting, as a well-intentioned young person, to feel the will to take action, show solidarity and help.  Volunteering is one great way to get involved – which nonetheless requires some preparatory reflection. 

Determined to help people living in a precarious and unfair situation, one can indeed end up – more or less consciously imprisoning them in a passive and dependant position, cultivating a rather unhealthy relationship to volunteer work and its beneficiaries. Maintaining refugees and asylum seekers in such a state, considering them as weak and desperate people to be saved, will not help them. 

A volunteer is there to inform, accompany and support, work with the beneficiary towards their autonomy and self-reliance. If they are indeed experiencing complex and harsh circumstances, refugee, asylum seeker and migrant people, have actually been through challenges and hardships we, European and Western volunteers, have not – and cannot imagine. They, therefore, are capable – and strong. They have left their home, land and loved ones, walked and travelled thousands of kilometres, crossed borders, deserts and seas. There is no doubt they can look for a job, fill a form or search on the Internet by themselves.  They will ask for the help and information they need, which volunteers and organizations are meant to provide.

Volunteers are neither saviours nor superheroes. Volunteering for a month in an NGO will not change the world or anyone’s life – and that is not the goal. Volunteering is a job – with its tasks and constraints, codes and limits and a commitment. Volunteering is an enriching and important mission that demands humility, open-mindedness and self-questioning. Volunteering can be a profound and moving experience – from human to human, capable intelligent individual to capable intelligent individual. 

If this resonates with you, then, go on. It is time to get ready for the adventure!

Stay updated on all our adventures by following us on our social media.

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