The end of the beginning: research into social work with asylum seekers during the COVID-19 pandemic in North Greece and South Italy

A research study conducted during 2020-2021 in northern Greece and southern Italy has explored the impact of the pandemic on asylum seekers and social workers in terms of the social work experience and responsibilities across borders and in contrasting settings.

Time and place. Since 2015, These areas have experienced cyclical peaks in arrivals of destitute migrants seeking transit to European countries. The host countries have gradually exercised more hostile policies concerning such transit, funding containment and restricted reunification. Most arrivals are men in their 20’s but those for whom social work services are needed include families and thousands of unaccompanied minors. International movement, national administration and local direct practice has been locked down or severely cramped in the pandemic.

The ‘end of the beginning’ suggests a combination of meanings for participants:

  • A limbo stage in diverse asylum journeys.
  • A corner in the road, from which practitioners look back and consider the impact of systemic and practice adjustments
  • An opportunity for practitioners to pause and reflect on their balance of personal and professional tensions and resources in their own journeys.
  • Likewise, an opportunity for the asylum seekers to relect.


Creative local achievements occur through networking within disjointed local patchworks of processes and resources. Social workers continue to help asylum seekers navigate poverty, mental ill health and barriers to various forms of transition, with distinct differences in national reception systems.

Window blind taken from inside the children's shelter in Thrace

Window blind taken from inside the children’s shelter in Thrace

Research team: Elena Allegri and Roberta T. Di Rosa (co-ordinators, Italy); Theano Kallinikaki (co-ordinator, Greece); Shulamit Ramon (Project co-ordinator); Brian Littlechild and James Cox (UK). They can be reached via