On 22 November, 2016, a resounding message, regarding the faith in and dedication to the universal human values of peace, solidarity and understanding that we all need to have, was sent from the Athens Meeting “Welcoming Cities for Refugees: Promoting inclusion and Protecting rights”.

The Meeting, which was organized jointly by UNESCO and the “Marianna V. Vardinoyannis Foundation”, took place in the presence of H.E. the President of the Republic, Prokopis Pavlopoulos.

The Meeting was opened with a speech from the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, and then the floor was taken by UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Marianna V. Vardinoyannis.

Attending the opening of the Athens Meeting on the refugee issue on behalf of the State were Migration Policy Minister Ioannis Mouzalas, who represented Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, and Deputy Foreign Minister Ioannis Amanatidis, who delivered welcome addresses, Shipping and Island Policy Minister Panagiotis Kouroumblis, the President of PASOK and Head of Democratic Alignment, Fofi Gennimata, the President of the Union of Centrists, Vassilis Leventis, and many MPs. The President of New Democracy was represented at the event by MP Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, and “Potami” was represented by MP Kornilia Kazala.

The opening of the event was also addressed by the wife of the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Antri Anastasiadi, who also represented her husband at the event, and the wife of the President of the Republic of Albania, Odeta Nishani.

Following the welcome addresses, Mrs. Vardinoyannis again took the floor, this time to honor the Director-General of UNESCO, Mrs. Irina Bokova, with her Foundation’s Award. The President of the Republic, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, conveyed the award to Mrs. Bokova.

The Athens Meeting was coordinated by Christos Zerefos, academic and Professor of the UNESCO Chair of Natural Disasters in the geosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere.

In the second part of the Athens Meeting, the speakers who took the floor analyzed all the aspects of the complex refugee issue – basic principles, international conventions, human rights, multicultural coexistence, the role of the news media, etc. – while the mayors of cities hosting refugees talked about their experiences. Recommendations and proposals were made on all aspects of the issue by foreign and Greek experts who participated in the Meeting, including professors, advisers and public functionaries competent in the sector of migration policy, Civil Society representatives, and others.

Others who shared their experiences with the refugee issue at the Athens Meeting included: The 26th Governor of Canada (1999-2005), Adrienne Clarkson; the President of the Central Union of Municipalities of Greece, Giorgos Patoulis; the Mayor of Lesvos, Spyros Galinos; the Mayor of Chios, Manolis Vournous; the Mayor of Piraeus, Ioannis Moralis; the representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Greece, Philippe Leclerc; the President of Global Migration Policy Associates, Patrick Taran; the Director of the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (Belgium), Michele Levoy; and the founder of IamSyria.org (USA), Andrew Beiter.

The proceedings on that first day of Athens meeting also included the presentation of the first joint editorial initiative between UNESCO and the “Marianna V. Vardinoyannis Foundation” entitled Cities Welcoming Refugees and Migrants, edited by Patrick Taran, President of Global Migration Policy Associates.

Those in attendance at opening of the Athens Meeting included: The wife of the President of the Republic, Sissy Pavlopoulou; Princess Katherine of Serbia; the President of the Hellenic National Commission for UNESCO, Aikaterini Tzitzikosta; Ambassadors from various countries, many Mayors and representatives of Local Authorities, Agencies and Foundations, including the President of the Acropolis Museum, professor Dimitrios Pantermalis; The President of UNICEF, Sofia Tzitzikou; the President of GESEE, Ioannis Panagopoulos; the President of the Red Cross, Antonis Avgerinos; the representative of the IOM, Daniel Esdras; the head of the European Parliament in Greece, Leonidas Antonakopoulos; the President of Action Aid, Alexandra Mitsotaki; the President of the Athens Concert Hall, Nikolaos Theocharis, and the academic Kiki Dimouli.

The “Welcoming Cities for Refugees” Athens Meeting was concluded on 23 November 2016. A total of 30 Greek and foreign experts met at Zappeion Mansion to discuss and prepare a practical guidebook for local government agencies and other parties involved in the migrant crisis. The guidebook will contain useful ideas and practices on creating refugee-friendly cities and will be distributed to local government agencies and other parties involved in the migrant crisis all around Europe.

In her address, the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, Ms. Marianna Vardinoyannis, noted: “I am deeply honoured for being here today and for being a member of such a rich in knowledge and actions group, which includes scientists, academics, public officials, researchers and activists from Greece and abroad. Each one of us personally and all of us collectively have undertaken a commitment: To take positive action, based on compassion and solidarity. We have all gathered here to propose a comprehensive approach to the issue, encompassing humanitarian, cultural, political and economic aspects. I would call the guidebook we are currently holding in our hands a REVOLUTION in the refugee issue. And I am proud that this ACTION GUIDE for a better world for us Europeans is being born here in Athens, as part of the ‘Welcoming Cities for Refugees’ Programme. This Programme is backed by UNESCO, ECCAR and our Foundation; a seal of quality guaranteeing the prestige and credibility of this effort, but above all its humanity, realism and effective action, the three building blocks of this initiative.” Upon closing, she highlighted, “On my part, as a Greek and a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, I am committed to this effort and I invite you all to COMMIT to ACTION as a final message at this ATHENS MEETING”.

Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis, Piraeus Mayor Giannis Moralis and Lesvos Mayor Spyros Galinos took the floor next. They described their experiences, referred to the initiatives they undertook to resolve the problems that arose due to the refugee inflow, and exchanged views with European activists and public officials with experience on policies and practices for welcoming, hosting and integrating refugees to the social fabric of their cities.

Other Greek and foreign experts who participated in the Conference at Zappeion Mansion included: Adrienne Clarkson, 26th Governor General of Canada (1999-2005); Patrick Taran, President of Global Migration Policy Associates; Michele LeVoy, Director of the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants; Andrew Beiter, founder of IamSyria.org; Lefteris Papagiannakis, Deputy Mayor of Athens in charge of the refugee and migration sector; Alexandros Zavos, President of the Hellenic Migration Policy Institute; Daniel Esdras, Representative of the International Organization for Migration Office in Athens; Stavros Yiannouka, CEO of the World Innovation Summit for Education, a major initiative of the Qatar Foundation; Karen Robinson, Representative of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights; Rodi Kratsa, President of Konstantinos Karamanlis Institute for Democracy; Konstantinos Tararas, Programme Specialist at the Sector for Social and Human Sciences; and Achilles Tsaltas, Vice President of International Conferences at The New York Times.