Giving voice to refugees and safe haven to children

In a high-flying humanitarian career, Lora Pappa worked with government agencies and nongovernmental organizations, as well as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to help those who made it to Greece by land and sea in search of a better life.

Man clapping his hands beside woman holding statue (© Antonio Cotrim/Lusa)
In June, Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa (left) awarded Lora Pappa the Council of Europe’s North-South Prize. (© Antonio Cotrim/Lusa)

One problem caused her endless frustration: When refugees and migrants sought asylum or needed legal or medical help, there was often no one to interpret their words.

Colleagues told her the problem could not be solved, especially given the myriad languages spoken by the newcomers. So Pappa left her job as a U.N. consultant to start her own organization to fill the interpreter void.

Today Pappa’s organization, METAdrasi ­(Action for Migration and Development), employs 160 people in Athens and on Lesvos, Samos, Chios and other Greek islands inundated with refugees in 2015.

People standing in train station (© AP Images)
A family of Syrian refugees at the train station in Thessaloniki, Greece, in April 2015. (© AP Images)

METAdrasi deploys more than 300 certified interpreters — some former refugees and migrants — to camps and centers to help refugees communicate with asylum officers, police, doctors and others. Five hundred volunteers support its work.

METAdrasi keeps children from the clutches of smugglers. It has escorted nearly 4,000 unaccompanied youths out of adult detention facilities and off the streets to safer places, reuniting some with relatives outside Greece and recently placing a small number in temporary foster homes with Greek families. It has drawn support from the governments of France, England, Norway, the U.S. and the U.N. and the Hellenic Initiative.

In June, the U.S. Embassy in Athens funded a two-day workshop called “Resilience Building in Humanitarian Workers” to help METAdrasi and others working to help refugees.

At a time of rising nationalism and xenophobia, Pappa dedicated the Council of Europe’s North-South Prize, which she received in June, “to the thousands of anonymous Greeks, Europeans and world citizens who put themselves in the place of ‘the other’” who put life at risk to flee conflict, persecution, hunger or poverty.

People standing and watching approaching ship (© AP Images)
METAdrasi helps refugees like these on the island of Samos seek medical and legal help. (© AP Images)

In a telephone interview from Athens, she said, “We cannot stop migration. We cannot stop people moving. It’s better to start seeing what we can do.”

The unaccompanied minors, some orphaned in their families’ risky journeys across the sea, “want to study and settle down and finally start thinking about their future,” Pappa said. “We have to help these young people in Greece and all around the European Union.”

Pappa stresses the positive aspects of integrating new people and new cultures into one’s own community. “Open your eyes. Talk to [refugees]. Go and approach them and say, ‘What’s your problem? Where are you coming from?’ We would all be richer if we were more open.”