About Villa Azadi

Villa Azadi is one of eight reception centers for unaccompanied minors (UMs) in Greece and one of the newest. With 96 beds it covers one third of the official housing capacity for underage refugees.

Villa Azadi was founded in order to function as a reception center for UMs, meaning underage refugees who arrived in Greece without their parents or any other responable adult. It is a state-run reception center, financed by the European Refugee Fund (ERF) and under the auspices of the Greek Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. The building and the housing programme are run by the state-run foundation „Theomitor“ while the working 17 person team is employed by the co-operating local NGO „Iliaktida“. It offers basic needs supply (housing, nutrition, clothing), legal and social councilling, medical support and education in languages. Professionals include social anthropologists, a sociologist, a social worker, a lawyer, a psychologist, pedagogical employees, interpetors, cooks, a doctor and a nurse. The reception center is located in central Lesvos, 5 km far from the mountain village Agiasos and approx. 40 km far from Mitilene the capital of the island.

The name Villa Azadi (Farsi: house of freedom) was given by the first minors who were transferred to the reception center on it’s official opening date – the 10th of July 2008. Since then more than 1.500 refugees have been registered. The majority comes from Afghanistan, is male and in average 16 to 17 years old. A smaller number of minors have come from Somalia, Palestine, Iraq and Iran.

The common transferal procedure is co-ordinated by the responsible Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. Usually minors are brought by their temporary guardians or by the police from the detention centers on the eastern state borders of Greece (Mitilene, Samos, Chios, Leros etc.) to Villa Azadi where they are released. From then on Villa Azadi is in charge of them. A smaller number of minors are transferred by the Greek Refugee Council in Athens, the Red Cross in Patras or other refugee supporting institutions.

The main characteristics of the reception center distinguishing it from the earlier founded ones are: firstly, that the focus group has been expanded from asylum seeking minors to all registered under-age refugees, independantly of the fact if they applied for asylum or not. Secondly, for the minors being transferred from detention centers to the reception center the responsible public prosecuter appoints the director of the foundation „Theomitor“ to be their legal guardian, a procedure that had not yet been established in all over Greece before the opening of the center.

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