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.

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