WELCOMMON, the hostel that provided accommodation to refugees and asylum seekers in Athens, is now open to tourists.
Run by social co-operative Wind of Renewal, the hostel helped to accommodate 600 refugees from 22 countries between October 2016 and February 2018. Residents included 41 newborn babies and pregnant women.
The project was initially supported by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Development Agency of the Municipality of Athens. But in February, the UNHCR informed Wind of Renewal that its approach would be to focus on small structures such as apartments, rather than larger, catered facilities such as the hostel.
UNHCR funding for the project was discontinued in 2018 and the WELCOMMON residents were transferred into apartments.
The hostel reopened in June after the building was renovated and is now part of the LE MAT Network for the promotion of sustainable tourism. Wind of Renewal president Nikos Chrysogelos says the project is now aimed at promoting sustainable tourism, providing accommodation for socially, culturally and environmentally active tourists during their stay in Athens.
The building has a total capacity of 139 beds. It includes a kitchen, a bar, a conference room and other common areas. With the support of volunteers, the hostel continues to offer language classes and other activities for refugee children to help create relationships between newcomers and local people. Other activities include cooking classes, gardening and visits to parks and museums. Students and teachers staying at the hostel receive a 20% discount.
“Although we were very disappointed by the UNHR’s decision and the short time we had in order to be able to find an alternative, we decided to continue our efforts and innovative approach opening an innovative WELCOMMON HOSTEL combining sustainable tourism with social and labour integration of refugees, migrants and Greek locals,” said Mr Chrysogelos
Getting loans from regular banks proved to be a challenge so far, with the co-op obtaining only a microcredit of €25,000 from a co-op bank.
“Although we were not able to have access to funding or micro-financing, we succeeded in refurbishing the building in about three months by reusing materials. At the end of June we opened our innovative hostel to tourists with values and interests and we restarted our work for the social inclusion of refugees,” added Mr Chrysogelos.
But lack of funding remains an issue for the hostel. The refurbishments created a hole in its budget. Wind of Renewal is now looking for donations and investors to continue its work and avoid eviction.