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It is hard to explain how significant this is for us, as a small organisation trying to do something different here in Athens. We have been thinking about how it might feel to win, and we were right, it does feel amazing!
Mustafa Mohammad
Director
What the judges said

The Velos Youth Centre project in Athens was chosen for providing a safe space and holistic support for a specific demographic: displaced, unaccompanied people, mostly men, aged 16-21. The judges were impressed that the Centre is run by refugees for refugees and is funded collectively. They liked the Centre’s focus on young men “vulnerable in this age group to many malign influences. The assistance and support provided are an exceptional example of constructive ways to support young people in making self-reliant lives.” 

Velos Youth Centre, Athens

The aims and activities of Velos Youth complement the long-held focus and belief in  self-reliance, the main tenet of  Ockenden International since its inception in 1951. Promoting autonomy and self-reliance of displaced children and young people is at the core of Velos Youth’s activities.

The Velos Youth Centre is led by people with lived experience of displacement with their input integral to the project’s design. Velos provides:

  • opportunities for young people to develop skills to cope and adapt to new circumstances
  • access to services which support their integration into society and meet their basic needs
  • and security and protection in the form of robust safeguarding and child protection measures as well as access to legal services.

The young people supported by the Velos Youth Centre in Athens represent a group often excluded from specialist services due to their age and gender. Without Velos Youth Centre there would be a huge gap in services and access for them. No other organisations provide holistic support and protection for them in Athens.

Velos Youth has also successfully implemented two partner programmes focused on increasing self-reliance through education and employment opportunities, psychological care and legal support. The focus on human rights education and legal aid means more young people can advocate for themselves, which further develops self-reliance.

Velos Youth envisions a world where every young person has equal access to opportunity and where no one is denied their human rights. The organisation strives for a future where care reflects the unique needs of each person, focusing on immediate safety and a smooth transition to adulthood.

There are 5,000 unaccompanied minors in Greece with 25% experiencing homelessness. Those turning 18 join the least supported cohort of displaced people in Europe: single young men.

Significant barriers to integration

Unable to access secure housing and integration services, they lose guardianship and services most often reserved for women, families and children. The young men face significant barriers to integration including long asylum procedures; housing shortages; restricted access to medical care, education and employment. Velos Youth supports displaced young people in building independent lives in Greece or to safely and legally reach an alternative destination that is in their better interests. This Velos Youth strives to achieve by providing safe spaces, basic services and holistic case management – legal assistance, education, employment, health and accommodation. Velos Youth treats the young people it supports as autonomous agents, with help from qualified professional mentors.

Velos Youth Centre also provides practical assistance such as laundry, showers and meals alongside the case support. It builds user networks which improve safety and social integration.

The centre is staffed by two cultural mediators speaking seven languages, two social workers providing case management and youth workers facilitating engagement and activities. The case management system involves one-to-one sessions with social workers and referrals to specialist services, enabling young people to navigate Greece’s bureaucracy  and learn their rights. Velos Youth also helps young people find employment through employability workshops, support with tax registrations, social security and unemployment benefits, free transportation cards, vocational training registrations and job opportunities.

With the help of new partners, 10 young people secured employment in 2020. It programs also develop personalised education plans with 20 young people now enrolled in public school through an educational partnership programme. In addition, Velos Youth provides access to psychological support in collaboration with partners; developing mental resilience and toolkits for their transition to adulthood.

Velos Youth Centre is the first youth centre in Greece, and has consistently raised recognition of this age group’s unique needs. Through its networking capacities, more stakeholders are developing opportunities for youth integration in Greece. 

Since 2017, Velos Youth Centre has supported 1,300 unaccompanied children and young people in Athens. It have provided 17,637 hot meals, distributed 7,811 essentials such as sleeping bags, clothes, hygiene products, face masks and hand gel. It made 16,479 referrals to partner organisations and services.

What the beneficiaries in Athens say about the Velos Youth Centre . . .

Ockenden International’s four cash prizes recognise and reward innovative projects that deliver evidential self-reliance to refugees and/or displaced people, the hallmark of Ockenden International since its inception in 1951. The four annual prizes are open to projects or programmes focused on Internally Displaced People (IDP)/refugee self-reliance anywhere in the world. The other nine 2021 finalists (with the other three winners italicised) are: