Reporting on the front lines of history in Greece

Author: Joe Stephens (Page 1 of 2)

An Uncertain Future for the Anarchists of Exarchia

By Anna Wolcke

ATHENS – On a summer day, tourists and locals alike can be found in Kolonaki, one of Athens’ most affluent neighborhoods, sipping on cappuccinos, chatting with friends or leisurely walking alongside the most expensive stores in the city. Few ever leave to go to Exarchia, a neighborhood a mere five-minute walk away.

Although Kolonaki and Exarchia border each other, they are worlds apart. Kolonaki offers clean alleyways and expensive coffee shops, and houses Athens’ only Gucci store. In Exarchia, graffiti cover buildings, streets and any other available surface. Posters on lampposts urge passers-by not to vote in the next election. Squatters have a smoke in front of their illegally occupied homes.

For the last four decades, Exarchia has been controlled by anarchists. Some travel agencies warn tourists of entering the neighborhood. Police refrain from getting too close.

At the same time, Exarchia is a hub for young people interested in street art, alternative bars and counter-culture vibes. Anarchists explore Communist bookshops, enjoy a cold beer at anarchist-run rooftop bars and discuss politics in the streets.

But in a few months, Exarchia as it stands might not exist.

The fate of the anarchists who call the neighborhood their home? Unknown.

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Holding onto Home: How Refugees Changed the Greek Muslim Community

By Amy Abdalla

 ATHENS — In a quiet neighborhood here, a small sign hangs in the garage entryway of an otherwise nondescript building. In both Arabic and English, it reads Al-Salam Mosque.

On Friday afternoons, the place comes alive with men and women flooding through the garage. Taking off their shoes before descending the damp stairwell, they file into a large carpeted basement and take a seat on the floor.

This is one of the many makeshift praying spaces to which Muslims here have become accustomed. Athens is the last European capital without an official mosque. Though plans to open a government-funded mosque in September are underway, the Muslim community has been coming together in basements and garages like this for decades.

However, in recent years, the congregation has changed. What was once a community of established immigrants has been inundated with transitioning migrants. Greece, like the rest of the world, has been deeply affected by the 25.9 million refugees displaced from their homes, mostly from Muslim majority countries. For local Muslim communities, this means adjusting to a new way of life, and a generation with a new identity.

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After Twin Crises, Lesbos Struggles to Recover

MYTILENE , Greece — At first glance, the capital of the island of Lesbos appears to be a bustling economic center. Businesses with Greek, Turkish, and English signs ring the U-shaped port. Tourists stroll past hotels, locals mix at local bars and restaurants, and street merchants call to potential customers.

But Mytilene  looks different on closer inspection. Patrol boats and cutters flying a variety of European flags are docked next to the sidewalks, on stand-by as part of Frontex, the European Union’s border patrol. A Hellenic Navy gunboat cruises in and out of the harbor periodically.

Why are these warships docked in a peaceful port city? In 2010, as more and more refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria began to cross from Turkey into Greece, the Greek government requested help from the European Union and it arrived in the form of Frontex. Over the next few years, the influx of hundreds of thousands of migrants on an island of just 86,000 people thrust Lesbos into the media spotlight, brought hundreds of volunteers from aid organizations and governmental agencies to the area, and “destroyed some local economies to the largest extent,” according to local businesswoman Afroditi Vati-Mariolas.

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‘Give Us an Oxygen Mask’ – The Drive to Save Lesbos Tourism

By Jack Allen

MOLYVOS, Greece —  “What would you do – right now – if an overfilled lifeboat arrived on this beach?”

It is a question that doesn’t seem to trouble any of the Aphrodite Hotel’s mid-June sunbathers, who lie unperturbed on the hotel’s private beach. But it’s a question that many tourists coming through Aphrodite Vati Mariola’s hotel have had to face.

Four summers ago, the Aphrodite Hotel was the first stop in the European Union for more than 10,000 refugees, who had sailed across the five-kilometer strait from Turkey to the hotel’s beach near Molyvos, on the northern tip of the Greek island of Lesbos. Now, the flow of migrants has dried up – but the negative publicity stemming from the crisis keeps tourists from coming.

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A Place for Respite: The Café Opposite Moria Refugee Camp

By Jack Allen

MORIA, Greece — The lunchtime rush is not a good time to interview Kostas Dripadis at his restaurant across the road from Moria refugee camp. “It’s the busiest time of the day – we have migrants, NGO workers and the camp administration all visiting to order food,” he explained.

Dripadis set up Maria’s Shop in 2015 just after the former army barracks of Moria was repurposed as a transfer camp for refugees arriving on the island of Lesbos, Greece. Serving about 250 people a day, his business is one of many in the area that has benefitted from the influx of migrants and workers to the camp.

Like many of the structures across the road, Maria’s Shop was fashioned quickly out of temporary materials: Dripadis operates out of a burger van, while his customers seek shade from the summer sun under tarpaulin sheets.

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Long Wait For Asylum Leaves Migrants Struggling

By Brillian Bao

ATHENS — Abdelrahman Abudan has been seeking asylum since 2006. That year, he left Palestine for Greece following a family disagreement. But Abudan was turned back upon arriving, told that he did not have a compelling case for asylum here.

As fighting raged in his hometown, Abudan left for Greece once again in 2018. Though his wife and six children successfully made their way across the Mediterranean, Abudan was detained and arrested in Turkey. He was permitted to join his family once they were granted asylum. Abudan, who now lives with his wife in Tripoli, hopes his case will be settled within the next month.

Abudan is just one of thousands of asylum seekers who have spent recent months waiting for an asylum decision. According to the Asylum Service, the section of Greece’s government responsible for processing asylum claims, more than 58,000 applications remained pending at the end of last year. Applicants in Greece wait 258 days for a decision on average, even though the European Union has ordered that the examination of applications be completed within six months. Countries are not penalized for failing to meet this time frame.

But while the wait for asylum can be frustrating, it is often just the first of many challenges ahead for migrants who choose to remain in Greece long term. These problems are varied and can feel overwhelming at times: paying for housing, securing employment, battling wage theft, schooling children, and finding a community.

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A New Forever Situation

By Marissa Michaels

ATHENS — When she arrived in Greece as a refugee, Veeda Rahmani did not expect to still be here three and a half years later. Unemployed, Rahmani and her mother are unable to join family in Canada as they had hoped

In Afghanistan, Rahmani taught Farsi to post-graduates. Here, she cannot find work. Though she searches for jobs, Rahmani believes her English is not yet good enough to find employment. “No jobs for refugees,” she said simply.

She is not alone.

Greece’s Ministry of Migration Policy, which was recently absorbed into the Ministry of Citizen Protection, does not keep statistics on how many refugees work in Greece, but several interviews suggest that hardly any refugees have jobs.

But the problem extends beyond refugees. Greece has an unemployment rate of 18%, including 40% for youth and around 45% for registered migrants.

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Cooking Up a New Future for Lesbos

By Marissa Michaels

MYTILINI, Greece –– Rich aromas pervade Nan, a restaurant in Lesbos’ port city of Mytilini, distinguished by its blend of traditional Greek foods and the cuisines of the refugees that work there.

Nan’s multicultural menu changes daily, updated with a board of specials, including their $5 Nantails. Much of its international customer base, many of whom are aid workers or students, return to Nan often, listening to Abba playing on the stereo.

Four Greek women founded Nan in 2018 with the goal of being an environmentally friendly example of how local Greek businesses can successfully employ refugees, as long as they are willing to deal with some resistance along the way.

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Explainer: Greeks Vote for a New Government

By Tom Salotti

ATHENS — Greek nationals head to the polls today to decide who will be leading the Hellenic Republic for the next five years. In late May, current Prime Minister Alex Tsipras called for snap elections, after his Syriza party suffered a defeat in the country’s European Parliament elections.

New Democracy, a conservative party led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, gained three seats in the European election to bring their total to eight seats in the EU parliament, with 33% of the vote. Syriza, the party that makes up the current government in Greece, earned 24% of the vote and kept six seats. The election was widely seen as a referendum on Tsipras’ government, a coalition of left-leaning parties, and the results forced the prime minister to call for new national elections.

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Vulnerable and Stranded, in Moria

By Marissa Michaels

MORIA, Greece — Migrants who survived the perilous sea journey from Turkey to Lesbos sit on small blue benches in the Reception and Identification Center (RIC) upon arriving at Moria, the most infamous and crowded refugee camp in Greece. Volunteers hand out snacks and search luggage. Translators tell migrants about the asylum process. Migrants enter a room to be screened, fingerprinted and legally registered.

Next comes the crucial part: medical examinations, including psychological components if necessary, to determine which refugees are vulnerable enough to be put on a priority list for transfer to Kara Tepe, a nearby camp, or the mainland camps, where conditions are generally better. This exam, run by the Ministry of Health’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, more commonly known by its Greek acronym, KEELPNO, tests for conditions like pregnancy and AIDS.

But KEELPNO is desperately understaffed and asylum rules change regularly. About 700 names are on a wait list to be transferred from the first reception center at Moria to camps on mainland Greece. People in wheelchairs and those riddled with psychotic disorders remain stuck in Moria, a refugee camp that is improving but is still unsafe and unstable for occupants. The limited capacity in well-run camps on the mainland makes the vulnerability assessment a crucial determinant of a refugee’s future.

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