Reporting on the front lines of history in Greece

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Podcast: Smiling flowers

For migrants, language can be among their biggest challenges. If they don’t know where in the world they will end up, how can they know which language to master? And where do they begin? Glodie Makunda of The Congo teaches English to migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos. He strives to transform English from a hurdle into a path to self-expression. Podcast by  Alice Crites.

Aired on WPRB radio, November 2017

Found in Translation

MYTILENE, Greece– Late last year, Mohamad Hassan Atye arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos confused, lost and unsure.

“I heard the name of Greece just when we arrived here,” said the 24-year-old native of Afghanistan. “The police catch us from the sea, and they show us … a paper. They say, ‘We are here from Greece, and we are not Turkey,’ and that was the first time I heard the name of Greece.”

Atye works as an interpreter at Mosaik, a community center that teaches new languages to migrants in Mytilene, the capital of Lesbos. Finding a job allowed him to rent an apartment, which he said was much better than living in one of the island’s refugee camps.

“The life is not easy in the camp,” Atye said on July 11. The day before, migrants had rioted and set fire to the trailer of an aid group in the Moria camp, five miles down the road from Mytilene. Atye lived in Moria before he found a job as a translator.

Atye and other migrants who have found work as translators for aid organizations represent a rare bright spot amid gloomy employment prospects for recently arrived migrants in Greece. Many migrants have struggled to integrate into Greek society, according to interviews with more than a dozen migrants, aid workers, and experts on migrant integration.

READ THE full article at The Nassau Weekly:



Isolated in Greek Camps, Migrants Find Work

By Alice Maiden

Mustafa Balqes is a 26-year-old Syrian who opened a café in Skaramagas migrant camp in July. Surrounded by bamboo fences and stocked with new wooden tables, his café adds color to the stark camp. Pink flowers on the tables frame the view of the Aegean Sea.

He installed a foosball and pool table in one tent, and surround-sound speakers in the other. If you ignore the United Nations tarp, you might forget for a moment that you’re in a migrant camp.

The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that nearly 50,000 migrants are still in Greece, awaiting asylum interviews in which they will make their cases for staying in Europe. Many migrants have been in camps for more than a year and still have months to go before their asylum cases are processed. Isolated from tourists and locals, counting dwindling savings and unstructured days, many migrants remain without jobs and little way to productively fill their days. But a few lucky migrants have found work in camps—or even, like Balqes, have started their own businesses.

The set-up was a major investment: Balqes said the pool table cost about 1750 euros (about $2,070), the billiard balls were another 750 euros ($890), and the rest of it—matching wooden tables and chairs, tablecloths, the coffeemaker—were another 1,000 euros ($1,180). Charging one euro ($1.18) for a game of pool, and one euro for a cup of coffee, just breaking even seemed like a distant future.

Continue reading on World Press news site:



By Andie Ayala

In recent years, more than 1 million migrants have floated across the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece, landing on the island of Lesbos. Hundreds of their boats happened to wash ashore on a small tourist beach directly behind the Aphrodite Hotel.

The Aphrodite Hotel has 53 rooms, a pool, a taverna and a spa. The Vita family, which runs the hotel, was  caught flat footed when the unexpected guests suddenly  began arriving two years ago.

On some days, as many as eight boatloads of migrants arrived on the tiny spit of sand, according to Aphrodite Vati Mariola, for whom the hotel is named. Many came from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Mothers, fathers and children traveling alone were fleeing war, persecution and economic instability.

The hotel didn’t receive government or charity support between April and August 2015, Mariola said. Hotel guests would help them attend to the needs of the migrants when they arrived, and clean up the leftover clothes and life jackets that were cast aside on the beach.

When European coast guard ships began patrolling the area, the migrants stopped arriving. But the impact on the hotel continues, Mariola said.

In 2015, before the crisis, 7,989 guests stayed at the hotel, she said. In 2006, at the height of the crisis, tourists stayed away and the number of guests plummeted to 2,911, a 64 percent drop.

Mariola explained that many other local shops, restaurants and hotels experienced a similar decline in business, because tourists were afraid of coming to the island. Now, they are trying to spread word they are still open for business.

“What we need,” Mariola said, “is for the true story to get out there — that things are organized, that things are beautiful, that businesses are ready like they always were in the past.”


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.



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