Borderland

Reporting on the front lines of history in Greece

Category: Uncategorized (page 2 of 3)

Exclusive: Inside the Lesbos camp disturbance

 

On July 10, migrants living in a camp near the town of Moria on the Greek island of Lesbos demonstrated against their deteriorating living conditions. Then things got out of hand. Our video team was there.

‘Kantina’ culture: A friendly place in an unfriendly world

Katerina Kechagia , who runs a cafe outside Moria migrant camp, hugs Azin, a young Iraqi girl who lives in Moria. Photo by Jack Lohmann

By Jack Lohmann

MORIA, Greece — When refugees came to the Greek island of Lesbos, Katerina Kechagia set up shop.

In October 2015, as thousands of migrants from Turkey landed on the shores of the island, Kechagia pulled her canteen trailer to the center of the action. A sort of café, snack bar and convenience shop all rolled into one and set on wheels, Greek “kantinas” traditionally catered to tourists on beaches. But as tourism dried up in the face of the refugee crisis, Kechagia and others began serving migrants instead.

Parked barely outside the coiled razor wire marking the boundaries of the Moria refugee camp, Kechagia sold food, coffee and tobacco to refugees and aid workers.

“We decide to come here because we knew that we would have work all over the year,” instead of just the summer months, Kechagia said.

 

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Fiery riot in Moria migrant camp

Image from inside Moria camp during disturbance taken by Ehsan Mansuri, an Iranian migrant and resident of Moria. Obtained by Talya Nevins

By Talya Nevins

MORIA, Greece— A riot and fire today tore through the Moria migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. Moria camp is the primary reception center for refugees who land on the Greek island of Lesbos, just five miles from the Turkish coast.

Princeton University journalists who were working outside the camp Monday afternoon heard explosions. Migrants could be seen in the distance hurling stones at metal housing  containers, and a column of black smoke billowed about 15 stories high, blocking the sun.

Videos and photos taken by migrants inside the camp, and obtained exclusively by the journalists on the scene, showed several structures were gutted. At least two persons were seen collapsing just outside the camp and were treated.

One migrant explained that tensions erupted between a group of migrants and the non-governmental organization Euro Relief. Others claimed that the riots were in line with previous disturbances at the camp, in which migrants protested against the dismal conditions and stagnant registration process. During interviews in the days preceding the event, camp residents complained about overcrowding, inedible food and violence within the camp. 

 

“They burned the camp because (authorities)  don’t want to let people go,” Dandeen Matoko, a Congolese migrant who has lived in Moria for eight months, said in an interview while the disturbance continued on Monday. “They are keeping people here, we are not sleeping nicely, we are sleeping on the floor, other people are sleeping without covering themselves.

“They don’t give medication,” Matoko said. “Nothing at all. People are suffering. They are giving us dry rice. No meat, no soup. How can you survive? Back there it’s so difficult that we can’t really stand it. So people are so tired of this place, they don’t want to live.”

At one point, a squad of uniformed men bearing clear riot shields walked into the camp in formation. Fire trucks approached the gates of the camp, which is circled by coiled razor wire, but did not enter. One migrant collapsed outside the camp gate and others splashed her face with water. A man groaned on the ground before being carried away down a two-lane access road.

The camp houses more than 3,000 refugees, far beyond the capacity it was built to hold. There were no official reports of casualties in the incident. 

 

Princeton journalists Alice Maiden,  Jack Lohmann, Ethan Sterenfeld, Chiara Ficarelli and Andie Ayala  contributed to this report. Video captured by Lohmann was published by permission by The Daily Mail of London, and can be viewed at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/video/news/video-1498615/Live-footage-shows-fire-Moria-refugee-camp-Lesbos-Greece.html

Look for more exclusive video soon at Reuters News and on the website of Greece’s most distinguished newspaper, Kathimerini, a news partner with The New York Times. Still images captured by our reporting team are available at http://commons.princeton.edu/globalreporting2017/scenes-from-moria-riot/

 

Raw video taken inside Moria camp by Ehsan Mansuri, an Iranian migrant and resident of Moria. Video obtained by Talya Nevins

 

The masseuse in the refugee camp

Photo by Andie Ayala

 

By Ethan Sterenfeld

MYTILENE, Greece – Men lounged on benches in the shade and children kicked soccer balls on the gravel next to the sign that read “Kara Tepe Square.” A short walk down a path, vendors hawked falafel, french fries and beer under the midday Greek sun.

A similar scene might be found in many towns across the world but this happened in the Kara Tepe refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, two miles down the road from the island’s capital, Mytilene.

Kara Tepe was originally a temporary stop for migrants who washed ashore from Turkey, just a few miles away over the Aegean Sea. They would wait a few days in Lesbos before taking the ferry to Athens and the European mainland. The rules governing migration changed in 2016 due to an agreement between the European Union and Turkey, so migrants are now required to remain on Lesbos.

An administrator at the site said that she prefers the term “village” for Kara Tepe, and she also referred to it as a “hospitality center” during a tour given to visiting journalists on Thursday. The change in language, along with the colorful murals lining some walls, underscores the camp’s change in purpose to a long-term facility.

 

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Who is a Greek? For How Long?

Video by Talya Nevins

 

By Talya Nevins

ATHENS — Greece is one of the most homogenous countries in the world.

Numbers tell the story:  A 2011 national census  found  that 93 percent of the citizens of the Hellenic Republic described themselves as ethnically Greek. A full 98 percent of the population identified its religion as Greek Orthodox. And 99 percent of citizens listed their primary language as Greek, according to the most recent government data available.

For as long as most Greeks can remember, this uniformity has been central to the country’s identity. But since 2011, the resident population of Greece has been changing rapidly, and today those changes are beginning to look permanent.

 

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A country of controversy

Nafplio. Photo by Joe Stephens

 

By Ethan Sterenfeld

NAFPLIO, Greece — Two hours from Athens, across the Isthmus of Corinth and down Motorway 7, lies Nafplio, a city of roughly 30,000 and the original capital of the modern Greek state. The history of Nafplio illustrates the influences on Greece’s concurrent crises of economics and migration.

During the Greek War of Independence, Nafplio and the rest of the Peloponnese were a stronghold of the Greek rebels against the Ottoman Turks. In the past few years, more than a million migrants, mostly Muslims, have traveled from Turkey, the modern descendant of the Ottoman Empire, and into Greece.

Due to a series of wars and international agreements, virtually all of Greece’s Muslim population left the country by the early 20th Century. The three mosques in the center of Nafplio, which were built by the Ottomans, were converted to Christian churches or other uses by this period.

There have not been Islamic centers in Nafplio for at least a century. Although Muslims are still very rare in Nafplio, takes to the continuing refugee crisis, there are tens of thousands of them in the rest of Greece, and those Muslims need mosques in which to pray.

Athens, a city holding nearly 40 percent of the country’s population and 200,000 Muslims, does not have a single official mosque, Public Radio International reported in April. Prayers must be held in makeshift basements and garages.

Ancient hilltop fort at Nafplio. Photo by Joe Stephens

The Golden Dawn, a far-right party that some consider neo-fascists — and which holds 17 seats in the Greek parliament — protested the building of an official mosque in the city, and tried to stop the construction, Al Jazeera reported in November.

Near Nafplio’s former mosques lies the Church of Saint Spyridon, where the first head of the Greek state was assassinated in 1831. Following that event, the European powers that had helped Greece secure independence from the Ottomans installed a German prince, Otto, as the King of Greece.

More than a century later, Germany would occupy Greece during the Second World War, killing hundreds of thousands of Greeks.

Today, Germany is one of the lead players in the Greek debt crisis. Without accepting the harsh austerity measures proposed by Germany in the past decade in exchange for loans, the Greek government would have defaulted. The austerity program is deeply unpopular among Greeks.

The dual histories in Nafplio of the Ottoman mosques and the church that prompted the first takeover of Greece by a German complicate what would already be strained situations in the country.

Nafplio bay at sunset. Photo by Joe Stephens

The Man and the Sea

By Chiara Ficarelli

SKARAMAGAS, Greece — Marwan Al-Ajam likes to fish.

On this Friday, the sea lapping on the dock at the Skaramagas migrant camp is giving.

Al-Ajam’s green bucket is filled with more than a dozen fish. Tonight he will feast.

“The little ones are very delicious,” Al-Ajam said, referring to the silver fish, which are no longer than his index finger. “I fry them quickly with spices.”

The 59-year-old has been following this routine for the past four months, ever since authorities resettled his family in Germany without him. Mornings begin with black coffee, a hunk of bread and a handful of dried dates. By 9 a.m. Al-Ajam is down at the dock with his rod, bait, and bucket. At 6 p.m. he heads home. Fish or no fish.

Al-Ajam spent a year living in Skaramagas with his 25-year-old son, Mohammad; his 28-year-old daughter, Noor;  and her son. Since his family left, he lives alone in an apartment in the Athens neighborhood of Omonia, provided to him by the U.N. refugee agency. His wife died in Syria.

 

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Extreme conditions: Temperatures and blood sugar escalate in camps

 

Isoboxes in the Skaramagas refugee camp. Photo taken by Andie Ayala

By Andie Ayala

SKARAMAGAS, Greece –– There was a heat wave in southern Greece this week, with temperatures projected to climb as high as 111 degrees.  In the Skaramagas refugee camp outside the Greek capital of Athens,  hardly anyone was venturing outdoors.

Kajji Dawd sat atop a mattress in her air-conditioned, solar-powered metal container, known as an Isobox, where she lived with four of her daughters. Three years earlier, after the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attacked their city and bombed her home, they had fled Iraq.

Dawd’s husband and two youngest daughters remained behind while she and the others trekked to Izmir, Turkey, and then across the Aegean Sea to reach the Greek island of Chios.

Although  temperatures were approaching  record levels in Greece, the camp remained cooler than Dawd’s hometown in Mosul, where forecasts were predicting highs of up to 118  degrees. Heat waves were nothing that Dawd was unaccustomed to. It was her high blood sugar levels that concerned her.

Dawd, 55,  had diabetes. When she was in Iraq, she was able to pay for medicine to keep her blood sugar low. In the camp, she was forced to go without. Instead, she carried a bag with glucose test strips and a meter to monitor her diabetes. On this day, she had only one strip left. She said she was saving it for an emergency. In the meantime, she said, she was forced to wait two to three hours every other day to be examined by a  camp doctor. Many other women like her in the camp face the same problem, she explained.

Dawd’s glucose test strips and meter.

 

“Before this, we were in Chios for five months and 15 days,” Dawd said. At the Vial refugee camp there, tensions escalated to frequent violence between Afghans and Syrians. “It was like being in a jail,” she said.

When fighting erupted in the camp, her blood sugar level rose to 350 mg/dL, though a healthy range for her would be between 90 – 180mg/dL.

At Skaramagas, Dawd said,  her blood sugar had decreased significantly. She was able to cook and wash dishes during the day, and take walks by the sea in the evening. Though it was blistering in the open, gravel-covered areas of the refugee camp, one of its advantages was that one side bordered the sea.  Along a cement strip facing the waves, , entrepreneurial migrants had set up tents with pool tables and coffee stands. There were signs warning people not to swim in the  water, polluted by the ships at a nearby port. But in the evening, children could be seen jumping in.

The view from the Skaramagas dock

Dawd said she hoped that she and her family would be approved for asylum in Greece. She wanted to travel to a northern country like Germany and have her husband and remaining daughters meet her there.

Life was difficult in Greece, she said, but easier than Iraq.

‘Hands off the squats’

In Athens, many refugees live in abandoned buildings known as squats. The Greek courts recently ruled that all occupants must be evicted, including at the well-known City Plaza Hotel. On June 23, opposition to the ruling was the focus of a rally outside the federal housing ministry. Our video team captured the action. 

Greek refugee camps becoming permanent

Food distribution lines at Skaramagas refugee camp

 

By Ethan Sterenfeld

ATHENS, Greece — Dilshad Ali decided, after his first four months in the Skaramagas refugee camp, that his bed should be more comfortable. So on Thursday, the 37-year-old native of Mosul, Iraq, gathered cardboard boxes to support his mattress.

The camp, which is built on a gray concrete dock near the Greek capital, is home to about 3,000 migrants, mostly Syrians, Afghans, and Iraqis, Al Jazeera reported last December.

At Skaramagas and other Greek refugee camps, there is no longer an acute crisis of feeding, clothing and housing the migrants, who have their own beds in air-conditioned trailers. Systems have been developed in the two years since the crisis erupted to support the roughly 60,000 refugees that the International Rescue Committee says live in Greece.

Faced with uncertain prospects and often held for longer than a year in what were originally designed to be temporary stops, some refugees have adopted routines that would normally be found in permanent neighborhoods.

Two Afghan men in the Schisto refugee camp, 2.5 miles down the road from Skaramagas, proudly displayed gardens of tomatoes and sunflowers that they maintain in front of their trailers.

Wet clothes hung on fences and railings around Schisto. A baby’s cradle sat next to a trailer. A chocolate brown dog lounged on the steps of the squat, nondescript main office. Flags from Greece, the United Nations and the European Union fluttered above the entrance to the former army base.

Castaway supplies next to a refugee’s trailer in Schisto refugee camp.

Nobody knows when the camp might close, but it is not expected anytime soon. Camp administrator Kostas Asinakopoulou said that there is no timeline for when or how the migrants might leave Schisto and be integrated into Greece or another European country.

Even when migrants gain legal status and can leave the camp, they sometimes attempt to stay, Asinakopoulou said. Refugees struggle to find jobs in Greece, which has suffered through an economic crisis for years.

Greece’s unemployment rate, the highest in the European Union, is 23.2 percent, the European Commission reported in April.

“The whole point of hiring a foreigner is to save money on wages,” Asinakopoulou said. He said that refugees often must work for a fraction of what a Greek citizen might make, and that he has heard of mistreatment by employers.

Back in Skaramagas, an elderly man from Damascus, Syria, was fishing off a dock —not to feed himself, but to pass the time. He cut off a chunk of fish to use as bait and dipped his fishing line into the turquoise waters of the Aegean Sea, which washes along the edge of the camp.

He said he  comes to the edge of the water every day in the early afternoon. On this Thursday, nothing was biting.

“No fish today,” he said with a shrug, handing the rod to his granddaughter, Sara. He would come back the next day, when he needed an activity to pass the hours, days, and months of waiting, and try again.

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