Reporting on the front lines of history in Greece

Author: Mariachiara Ficarelli

Lesbos, prison island?


By Andie Ayala and Chiara Ficarelli

MYTILENE, Greece –– As flames engulfed the Moria migrant camp last week,  Iranian migrant Arash Hampay sat quietly a few miles away in the shade of a bus stop  in the center of the quaint town of Mytilene.

Next to Hampay was a cardboard sign that read, “Hunger Strike for Freedom: Day 14. We came to Europe for protection, but Europe rejects people and puts us in jail. Refugees are not criminals.”

Friends called Hampay’s phone to offer regular updates on events unfolding at  the inflamed camp. Hampay said he found no happiness in the destruction, vowing to continue his nonviolent, two-week-old protest. He sought the release from Moria of his brother, Amir.

Another activist on the square, Runbir Serkepkani, provided a rough translation of Hampay’s comments:  “I have committed myself to reach . . .  freedom of [my] brother and the others who are detained. And I am going to continue until they release them or I will die.”

To date, officials have been unmoved by the hunger strike.

Although more than 1 million migrants have passed through the island of Lesbos over the last two years, daily life continues at a leisurely pace. As Moria burned, university students smoked in rooftop bars, elderly couples greeted each other on the street and fishing boats docked on the harbor.

Migrants from the Middle East and Africa sat in cafés and roamed about among the other residents, but there was an important distinction: Officially, they were denied the right to leave for the mainland.

Mehdi Medo, a migrant from Morocco who sat with Hampay, said he had been living in Moria camp for longer than a year.

“You have two worlds here” on Lebos, Medo said. “Refugees who sit here waiting for I-don’t-know-what, and people partying at night,

“It’s a beautiful island, but for the refugees it is a prison.”

10 Hours on the Blue Star Ferry

Footage by Chiara Ficarelli, Andie Ayala, Talya Rose Nevins. Produced by Chiara Ficarelli.

When migrants wash ashore on Greek islands such as Lesbos and Chios, they actually have taken only their first step toward a new life in Europe. After days or months, most board a commercial ferry for the Port of Piraeus in the Greek capital of Athens. This video shares the sights and sounds experienced by hundreds of thousands of refugees on their 10-hour journey to mainland Europe aboard a Blue Star Ferry.



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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The Block Party, Athens Style

By Chiara Ficarelli

ATHENS, Greece –– A bee stung Lefteris Stefanis on Syntagma Square Tuesday, at a rally aimed at convincing the Greek prime minister to resign. The sharp pain in the 34-year-old’s right index finger caught him by surprise.

“It is a new tactic of the regime,” said Stefanis, joking that Alexis Tsipras’s government had released bees to discourage his opponents.

Stefanis was sharing a Mythos beer with his friend from college, Petros Papalianos. Vendors sold roasted corn on the square, which was filled with milling crowds. Occasionally someone began chanting or picked up a microphone to demand that Tsipras step down. But mostly, the air was filled with upbeat music.

Police stood on the steps of the Parliament nearby, resembling parents watching children on a playground, indifferent to the unfolding scene.

“Alexis will be laughing until tomorrow,” said Stefanis, referring to the small and quiet turnout.


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