Moving Cities
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TilosIrrina cheese factory cooperative

What is inspiring?

Rather than only involving refugees as workers in local businesses, in Tilos a local cheese factory has created the opportunity for refugees to become co-owners.


Meinier-Tilos Association


How does it operate?

According to the mayor, three factors were important when the idea was initially proposed. First and foremost, the will of Tilos islanders to provide refugees with the perspective of settling permanently on the island through stable employment and a dignified life. Second, the need to boost the local economy and to return to traditional activities, diversifying the economy away from tourism. Third, there were already many goats living in the mountain areas of Tilos, providing the necessary resources for a sustainable cheese factory.

What is the outcome?

The cheese factory started operating in the spring of 2018. The idea behind it is that it functions as a cooperative where locals, already settled migrants and newly arrived refugees would be partners on an equal footing. As the mayor, Kamma Aliferi, has stated, “refugees are not only workers but co-owners of this business”. In this sense, the inclusion of migrants on Tilos goes well beyond a humanitarian approach and is aimed at a more equal participation in the island’s economic life. “This is a really sustainable and profitable business which can withstand the passing of time, and grow thanks to the contribution of more refugees in the future”, M. Kamma Aliferi has said.

Who initiated the project? How?

Municipal authorities on the island originally had the idea of creating the cheese factory. According to Kamma-Aliferi: “The authorities are committed to creating job openings for refugees. The plan is to open a cheese factory next year using milk from local goats.” Representatives of the Swiss municipality of Meinier, in cooperation with UNHCR, visited Tilos in order to think of ways to support refugee settlement on the island, and were impressed by the idea of a cheese factory. The Swiss municipality has committed to supporting the project and providing the necessary financial resources. The Swiss company Belgomilk provided the equipment for the cheese factory.

What is new in 2023?

In 2022, a paradigm shift occurred on Tilos. The NGO that built and financed the centre for refugees was replaced by the Greek central government. Since then, asylum seekers and refugees have been distributed to larger camps outside Tilos. "Due to the global situation and the impact on health, economy and politics, Tilos Island has reconsidered its priorities." In consultation with the partner 'Belgomilk' and the authorities on the island, it was decided to move the final handover of the cheese dairy forward from the end of 2023 to 2022 already. The establishment of the cheese and dairy production facility was supported in its preparation by the Meinier-Tilos Association, and the responsibility for its smooth operation was subsequently entrusted to the local stakeholders on Tilos.

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