Who we are

Symbiosis was founded in May 2011 drawing upon collaborations in the Balkans and Greece in education, rights and anti-discrimination. Based on the premise that practicing human rights protection equals to democratic rule of law, Symbiosis focuses on information and education, freedom of expression, documentation and analysis, public debate and active civic participation, so that people and communities voice their needs and ideas. Grounded on the need for global civics, citizenship, social inclusion and political participation, Symbiosis works towards democratic participation in political processes free of discrimination and exclusion, and on developing civic awareness on institutional practices regarding rights. Symbiosis advocates for the political, social and economic participation of migrants, refugees and marginalised communities.

Founding Team

Despina Syrri

Founder of Symbiosis-School of Political Studies in Greece, affiliated to the Council of Europe Network of Schools

Despina Syrri served as Education Specialist at the UNICEF Refugee and Migrant response in Greece, Advisor to the Regional Cooperation Council Political department in Sarajevo and Senior Expert on the Roma Integration 2020 in Belgrade. She has been a visiting fellow at the Amsterdam Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and director of research and international cooperation at the Immigration Policy Institute in Greece; worked amongst others with Reuters and Athens News, the Berlin Migration Netzwerk, Oxford Refugee Studies Centre and British Council on issues of post-conflict development, migration, refugees, borders and the integration of the Western Balkans to the European Union. She has cooperated with the OSCE/ODHIR, Council of Europe and EU Fundamental Rights Agency. Syrri taught Political Science and Political Anthropology at the American College of Thessaloniki. She has published journal articles and book chapters in Greek, South Slavic and English, and authored research papers and documentaries.

Ljubisa Vrencev

Founder Symbiosis-School of Political studies in Greece, affiliated to the Council of Europe Network

Since 1997 Ljubisa Vrencev has worked with national and international NGOs on local development, communication and media, reconciliation and forced displacement in Serbia, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. He also worked with UNOPS, UNDP, Cooperazione Italiana and International Organization for Migration as consultant on development of sustainable return policies. He holds an MA in Local Development for the Balkans from Trento/Bolzano Universities. In 2015 he coordinated the Humanitarian Response Rapid Assessment of the refugee crisis in Greece on the Aegean islands in cooperation with SolidarityNow and the Norwegian Refugee Council. As Programme Coordinator of Arbeiter Samariter Bund since June 2016 he manages refugee response funded by DG HOME, DG ECHO and the German Foreign Ministry. He has been a lecturer on diversity and communication for migrant communities and authored papers on development and migration issues. He speaks fluently South Slavic languages, English, Italian and Greek.


Cengiz Aktar

Political Scientist

A former director at the UN where he spent 22 years of his professional life, Aktar is one of the leading advocates of Turkey’s integration with EU. He is the initiator in 1999 of a civil initiative for the candidacy of Istanbul for the title of European Capital of Culture. Istanbul has successfully held the title in 2010. Another civil initiative called European Movement 2002 was his brainchild too. That one was aiming at putting pressure on the legislator to speed up political reforms necessary to cross the threshold of the negotiation phase with the EU. In 2008 he developed the idea of an apology campaign addressed to Armenians, initiated on-line, supported by a number of Turkish intellectuals in Turkey. Aktar is deeply involved in studying politics of memory regarding ethnic and religious minorities in Turkey. He was the editor of History Series of the Hrant Dink Foundation publications. During his UN years Aktar held seminars in the universities of his duty stations. He worked closely with EU officials, with ECHO as well as DG JFS in particular. He was involved in capacity building programmes in candidate countries of Central Europe in 1994-1999. Since 1999 he thought courses on various EU policies and Turkish Foreign Policy at Galatasaray and Bahçeşehir Universities. He was a senior researcher at Istanbul Policy Center. He used to write columns in Today’s Zaman, Taraf, Vatan, Haberdar. He is a regular commentator since 1999 at Açık Radyo. He is member and/or advisor to following institutions: the French periodical La Revue du Mauss, the Turkish ecological ngo Buğday, the Hrant Dink Foundation and the Aladin Project. He is also a reviewer for the European Commission, DG Research. Aktar has published several books and numerous articles in Turkey and abroad. His latest book “The Turkish Malaise” was published by Transnational Press in London in September. Born in 1955 in Istanbul he graduated from the Lycée de Galatasaray and completed his higher education at Panthéon-Sorbonne where he received his PhD degree on Economic Epistemology in 1982.

Stavros Boufidis

Psychiatrist – Psychotherapist

Stavros Boufidis is Psychiatrist – Psychotherapist, Member of the Hellenic Psychiatric Association, Co-Founder – Scientific Associate of the Special Clinic for Sleep Disorders – 1st Department of Neurology, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (2000-2013), Secretary of the Intercultural Department of the Hellenic Psychiatric Association, and Board Member and Head of Health Affairs of the Transgender Support Association. He has a rich activist and volunteer background working with several NGOs, collectives and solidarity movements with continuous and diverse active participation from 1993 until today, while as a psychiatrist he also recommended the de psychiatrification of transgenderism within the context of the legal recognition of gender identity. He was Vice President of the Board of Directors of Médecins Sans Frontières – Greece (2002-2005), Secretary General of the Board of the Medical Center for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims and Other Ill-Treatment, Thessaloniki (2000-2003) and Member of the seven-member interdisciplinary committee of the Ministry of Health for gender identity for persons aged 15-17 years (2017-2019). He created and managed the first shelter for hosting / protection of victims of trafficking / victims of domestic violence in Thessaloniki (2004-2010) in collaboration with the Medical Center for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims and Other Ill-Treatment.

Aikaterini Georgiadou


Aikaterini Georgiadou is a lawyer appointed to the Supreme Court and the Greek Council d’ Etat and a member of the Bar Association of Thessaloniki. She holds a Master’s Degree in Public Law and Political Sciences, School of Law, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Graduate of the Faculty of Law of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. She actively participates in Greek and international congresses, workshops, and activities related to human rights issues and public goods. An active member of the Hellenic League for Human Rights (HLHR), a non-governmental organization for the protection of human rights and she has handled cases under the Rights4refugees program organized by the HLHR. She had provided legal aid and counselling to asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants in the asylum-seeker sites in Greece (Elpida-Dion, Softex, Skaramangkas, Vrasna). An active member and volunteer lawyer of the Greek Transgendered Support Association, defending human rights of transgender people in Greece, having represented the Association in conferences, supporting advocacy for transgender rights both in Greece and in European institutions. She is a legal activist, who has contributed with strategic litigation to LGBTQI refugees and asylum seekers in Greece, the preservation of Greece’s cultural inheritance, the non-privatization of the water company in Thessaloniki and Athens, the distinction between Church and State, and the battle against racism and xenophobia. Katerina is a member in several social associations and collectives (Save the water (Soste to nero), Alexandrou Svolou Neighborhood Initiative, Friends of Rotonda, KEERFA) and former Councilor in the City Council of Pella, President of the Pella Municipal Enterprise for Tourist Development).

Solita Saltiel


Lawyer with many years of experience in a wide range of transactions, especially acquisitions and mergers, with emphasis on cross-border transactions and foreign investment in Greece and Southeastern Europe. She was responsible for the design and implementation of the knowledge management strategy of one of the largest law firms in Greece. Holder of a Master’s degree in Public Law and Political Science from the Law School of Aristotle University and in Economic Law from the University of London. Has contributed to the work on the Thessaloniki Jewish Museum. In recent years Saltiel is engaged with issues of gender and refugees and immigrants’ integration. Member of the Symbiosis partners’ Board since 2015.

Christos Iliadis

PhD social scientist and an independent consultant working for the Council of Europe (CoE),

Christos Iliadis is a PhD social scientist and an independent consultant working for the Council of Europe (CoE), the academia and consulting companies. He specialises on issues of social inclusion, access to Rights and democratic governance. He holds a master’s degree in political science from the University of Athens and a doctorate diploma from the Government Department at the University of Essex, UK. He has 10 years of experience conducting qualitative research and analysis on social and policy issues, including for the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), the CoE and the FMO. He has interdisciplinary research experience in data collecting and drafting reports, including in monitoring studies. He has extensively published both academic and non-academic papers – including a monograph – on the issues of his specialization. From 2017 until 2022 he was the Greek national coordinator for JUSTROM, a joint programme of the EU and the CoE that promoted access to justice for Roma women. In 2021 he produced monitoring reports with Tetra Tech on the EEA Grants programme & Roma inclusion and empowerment in Greece” and he completed a research report on the barriers to Roma women’s access to justice for the CoE. In 2015 he co-authored the report ”Integration of Migrants and their descendants in Greece” on behalf of the Fundamental Rights Agency. Since 2022 he is a consultant to the CoE in the area of intercultural cities and inclusive integration (policy and strategy advice, capacity building and network co-ordination).

Nicole Petalidou

Psychologist, FOMEN Researcher in Greece, Symbiosis-School of Political studies in Greece, affiliated to the Council of Europe Network

Nicole Petalidou holds a BSc in Economics and Political Science from the University of Twente, the Netherlands, and a second BSc in Applied Psychology from the University of Derby, United Kingdom. Further, she received her MSc in Neuropsychology and Psychopharmacology from the University of Maastricht, where she was simultaneously working as a Research Assistant. In addition, she has been collaborating with the University Hospital of Thessaloniki as a Research Associate since 2015. Nicole initiated her involvement with the humanitarian sector many years ago, initially as an active volunteer in many organisations related to human rights and afterward as a professional in the sector of Protection and is an expert in Gender-Based Violence and Social Inclusion. She is the Researcher for Greece in the “FOcus on MEN (FOMEN)” EU project implemented by Symbiosis. She is a fluent speaker in English, Greek, German and Dutch.

Michalis Karakonstantis

Council of Europe Language Integration for Adult Migrants (LIAM) trainer for Symbiosis-School of Political Studies in Greece, affiliated to the Council of Europe Network

Michalis Karakonstantis is a Council of Europe Language Integration for Adult Migrants (LIAM) trainer for Symbiosis-School of Political Studies in Greece, Council of Europe Network. Michalis works as the Education Team Leader for Greek Refugee Council, coaching the two education teams in Athens and Thessaloniki providing technical and educational support to the educators. He has a Degree in German Language and Literature and holds an MA in Linguistics. He is a certified EUROLTA teacher and trainer for teaching Greek as a foreign language to adults, and he has received training certification in Adult Education. For the last 14 years, Michalis has worked as a certified teacher of the Greek and German language in language schools in face-to-face and online sessions. He has been a Greek Language Educator for migrants and refugees of different age groups in the GCR multicultural centre PYXIDA, as well as Education Consultant to refugee families and Education Team Leader, including volunteer teachers of PYXIDA. Michalis presided for three years the ACCMR (Athens Coordination Centre for Migrants and Refugees) Education Committee meetings. His training experience includes online seminars for teachers for migrants and refugees in a partnership with the Hellenic Culture Centre.

Aleksandr Shmelev

Expert Fellow

In 2006-2008, Aleksandr worked in the Russian propaganda system being the Editor in Chief of the most popular news outlet in Russia (vz.ru). After his views have significantly diverged from those of the Russian government, he left the job and became an independent political writer working with various NGOs on helping to preserve democracy in Russia. In 2021 he had to leave Russia fleeing from political persecutions and after the war started he became one of the founders of the Pristanište Foundation which hosts Ukrainian refugees and anti-war Russians in Montenegro.

Advisory Board

Sonja Licht

President of the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence​

Sonja Licht was part of the Yugoslav dissident movement from the late sixties, and from the mid-eighties founded numerous local and international non-governmental organizations. Between 1991 and 1995 Sonja Licht was the co-chair of the international Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly. From 1991 to 2003 she was first Executive Director and then President of the Fund for an Open Society (Soros Foundation) in Yugoslavia (later Serbia), a major donor of a vigorous civil society. Sonja was the head of the Task Force of the Bratislava Process (established in July 1999 under the auspices of the East-West Institute in order to support the democratic opposition of Serbia). In 2010 she participated in the Council of Europe’s Group of Eminent Persons that prepared the report: Living Together: Combining Freedom and Diversity in Europe of 21st Century. She has been a member of boards of outstanding international organizations and is the laureate of numerous awards including the Star of Italian Solidarity and the French Legion of Honor. She is a Richard von Weizsacker Fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy for 2015.

Andreas Takis

Assistant Professor, Law School, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki​

Andreas Takis graduated from the Law Faculty of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, received the title of Master of Arts in Legal Theory from the postgraduate school of the European Academy of Legal Theory of the Facultés Universitaires St Louis and Katholieke Universiteit Brussel, and was awarded a Doctorate in Law by the Law Faculty of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. He is an assistant professor at the Law School of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTh), where he has been teaching Philosophy and Methodology of Law since 2012. He has served as Head of the Human Rights Department of the Greek Ombudsman’s Office (2003-2009), as well as Secretary-General of Immigration Policy of the Ministry of Interior (2009-2011). Takis has served as an expert of the Greek Ombudsman and the Council of Europe on human rights issues and he has participated in many missions in the Balkans and the former USSR. For many years, Andreas Takis was also a member of the National Commission for Human Rights and he also participated as an ex officio member, representative of Greece, in the Executive Board of the Fundamental Rights Agency of the European Union. In addition, he has served as Special Adviser to the Mayor of Thessaloniki on human rights issues. From 2015 until today, he remains Chairman of the Board of Directors of the State Museum of Contemporary Art, now Metropolitan Organization of Museums of Visual Arts of Thessaloniki (MOMus). Andreas Takis has authored many books, such as The moral indifference of the Law. Legal positivism and Analytical Philosophy (in Greek, Polis, 2006), On Artistic Freedom. An Essay of Constitutional & Political theory (in Greek, Savalas, 2009), Introduction to Legal Science (with prof. Kostas Stamatis, in Greek, Sakkoulas, 2015). He has also translated or supervised the translation of several political and legal philosophy works in Greek, among which are John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice (Polis, 2001) and he has edited collective volume, such as the Terrorism and Rights, together with Antonis Manitakis (Savvalas 2004). He has also contributed many articles to the fields of jurisprudence, legal reasoning and political theory. Andreas Takis’ research interests in the current period focus in particular on the theory of rules, legal interpretation, and political ontology.

Mahmoud Abdelrasoul

Graduated from the Athens Medical School, where he is a Cardiology doctoral candidate. Currently he is a trainee doctor at the corona virus Athens hospital Pammakaristos.​

From 2008 he works on social integration of refugees and migrants and other vulnerable groups in Greece. He has been a trainer since 2011 with National School of Public Health and IOM on Intercultural Mediators. In 2013 he was one of the founders of Almasar, a diaspora organization working on social inclusion, intercultural education and the rights of second-generation migrant youth. During the 2015 recent refugee reception crisis, he volunteered at the first irregular refugee settlement in the mainland (Pedion Areos). He then became Coordinator of Eleonas, the first official refugee site in Athens, with approximately 2,000 refugees residing. He has been a special adviser to the Ministry of Immigration Policy, 2015-8, on issues related to refugees, first reception, education and integration. He then focused on urban integration with the City of Athens in the fields of housing, education, sport, psychosocial support and employment. He is member of the Migrant Integration Council of Athens Municipality.