“The Mobile Info Team (MIT) are realistic. They don’t give false hope or make empty promises. They provide facts and impartial information that enables people to better understand their situations and the possibilities ahead. If someone has a difficult case, the team will follow up, work with lawyers and give individual support to those most vulnerable. They bring a lot of comfort to people who need it most.”
That’s Ruth speaking, a recent volunteer with MIT in Greece. She goes on: “And people love them! There are warm welcomes, smiles, hugs, kisses. People gather for an event. They encourage each other and support each other. They show their unmistakable Syrian hospitality by bringing us tea, coffee, cakes, croissants, oranges, biscuits and anything else they have to show their appreciation.”
Two years after the headline-catching crisis that impelled Richard Rudd and the Gene Keys community to get involved in supporting refugees in Idomeni**, tens of thousands of Middle Eastern families remain stranded in Greece, many of them in overcrowded and unhealthy camps. Bombs still fall and fighting continues in their native lands. They can’t go back, yet Western European borders remain closed to nearly all.
In these two years, MIT volunteers have become recognised experts in the complex and bureaucratic process of helping families reunite and people gain political asylum. Zania was pregnant, alone with three small children, and desperate to reach her husband in Germany before their new baby arrived. Thanks to MIT, her case which would typically take ten months to review was approved in five. ”Mobile Info Team helped me a lot,” says Zania. “I was in a very bad situation. My caseworker helped me with each stage of my file. There is a big difference between MIT and the other organisations. I am very thankful for all members of the team, because they are helping cases just like me.”
Michael Kientzle, MIT’s founder, took time out from his demanding work load recently to update the Society: “We’ve helped nearly 200 refugees to reunite with their loved ones.We are not only giving information, but for cases we are following we give individual support: helping to provide needed documents, speaking with the asylum service in Greece and the other country and advocating for every single case for it to be accepted.”
It’s clear from listening to Michael and other volunteers that the team puts huge energy into identifying and supporting refugees in acute need. It’s also easy to hear their satisfaction whenever cases succeed. Michael says: “Just yesterday I heard that a case we are supporting now for a long time will soon fly to Austria to his son. It is a special case because the father is in a wheelchair and really vulnerable. It was a real struggle to get approval for him to reunite with his son. The Austrian authorities were completely uncooperative – they are trying to keep every refugee out of their country – but with a lot of energy we were able to help this case end happily.”
MIT is constantly growing its services to refugees, always offering practical advice combined with caring support. One innovation is a new information sheet they have just created, which answers questions on when and how refugees can obtain a travel document. Michael explains: “The travel document will enable people to travel outside of Greece for a visit, to see for example relatives who are scattered now all over Europe, or to also look and apply for a job in another country, as the employment situation in Greece is really, really challenging. The procedure to get a travel document is very complicated and needs a lot of support.“
Preparing refugees for their big asylum hearing is at the heart of MIT’s support role. Michael says: “This is a very much needed service as most asylum seekers don’t have a clear understanding what the asylum hearing is all about. So even asylum seekers that clearly qualify as political refugees sometimes get rejected, because they don’t know what is expected from them in the asylum hearing. We provide information about the rights and obligations in the asylum hearing and we help people present their reasons for getting a refugee status’.
Establishing good relations with other refugee support services in Europe is another crucial aspect of MIT’s work. The team liaises now with Pro Asyl – the most important refugee council in Germany – to help refugees bring their cases to court in Germany and reduce huge delays in reuniting families.
MIT is also helping the “Goethe-Institut” to identify and register refugees accepted for family reunification for a German language course, in Athens or Thessaloniki, before they arrive in Germany. The Institute usually charges several hundred Euros for the course but it is free for the refugees. If it achieves its purpose of enabling refugees to settle more quickly in their new country, it will be a long-term win-win for all.
Ruth, whom we heard from at the beginning of this article, tells a heartwarming tale of refugee gratitude: “One of my favourite moments from all of my volunteering adventures over the past four months was in a camp near the Macedonian border. The team spent a few hours meeting the residents. One of the women had been terrified because her family reunification application was taking so long. She was so relieved to learn the delay was not abnormal that, despite our polite refusals, she scarpered off to make us something to eat. When the info session had ended, she and her friend reappeared to invite us for a meal in the room she shared with her 6 children.
“It was amazing. With no cooking facilities, she had rustled up a Syrian feast. We sat cross-legged around the bedsheet that was now our dining table and we ate salads made from grass she had picked from the ground and rice she had cooked solely from the heat of an electric radiator. It was delicious and we sat and chatted and laughed with our host and her friends and children for as long as it took to eat as much as we could get our hands on and to enjoy some great company.”
After this experience, Ruth wonders aloud: “If I would be as resourceful if I were in her shoes? I think I know the answer and don’t like it very much. I was filled with admiration for her and her ability to stay so positive and filled with hope when the odds seemed stacked against her. I saw it again and again; people relieved, comforted and empowered by the information and the help they got from the Mobile Info Team. Isn’t there a saying about information being power? Well, for people with very little power even over their own futures, the information they get from the Mobile Info Team is a lifeline.”
How Can Gene Keys community members help MIT in 2018?
1 Become a Volunteer in Greece
Mobile Info Team is always looking for new members to join them for a minimum of 3 months. Their team is young, dynamic and passionate about human rights, justice and solidarity. They have full time translators and caseworkers with dual roles in fundraising, advocacy and research. They work hard, are close knit group and have a lot of fun.
Learn more here
2 Support a Volunteer
It costs MIT $375 per month to support one volunteer with
- basic room and board
- transportation to camps and other refugee accommodations
- internet and phone calls with cases, lawyers, other NGOs and asylum offices, both in Greece and abroad.
Let’s make it our Society goal to raise enough to support at least one MIT volunteer per month in 2018!
Place a refugee savings jar on your shrine or in another obvious place where you will see it every day. Drop your loose change in the jar and, when it has accumulated for a while, send your donation. Make larger donations occasionally if you can. Go direct to the Philanthropy Hub link below, and click Idomeni Refugee Fund option on the drop down menu. Every dollar and cent that MIT receives through the Gene Keys Society will be dedicated to refugee support.
3 Become an Advocate for Refugees.
If you can’t afford to give money, you can still invest your time, your passion and your humanity to focus attention and create practical support for refugees. Encourage others to donate who can. Create a crowdfunder. Get friends, coworkers and family to sponsor you in a Charity walk or run. Spread the word about MIT and its amazing work on your social media platform. Lobby your country’s political representatives to take the world’s refugee situation seriously. Look for opportunities to advocate wherever you can for heart-based asylum and immigration laws that always put respect and dignity for our fellow humans in difficulties first.
Share your story of service to MIT and refugees in our Society forum to inspire others of us to get involved!
The Mobile Info Team is an incredible group of volunteers who are fulfilling a critical role in the asylum seeking process. Their dedicated team makes a direct impact in the lives of individuals and communities they support. They are well organised and have a commitment to quality and dignity. Out of all the teams we have encountered, MIT is one of the most committed to continuously improving their operations to increase their impact on the asylum seeker situation in Europe.
— Kyra Capizzani, Campfire Innovation
** For the story of how Gene Keys became involved with refugees in Greece and Mobile Info Team, visit our Gene Keys Society Philanthropy Hub here