Reporting on the front lines of history in Greece

Author: Joe Stephens (Page 2 of 2)

An Unconventional Family Man

By Marissa Michaels

ATHENS — After spending an hour leisurely sipping half a bottle of Coca-Cola, Noriel Cueto finally admitted that he was nervous being interviewed.

But seeing him navigate the immigrant-filled neighborhood of Kypseli in central Athens, you might not guess it. Cueto knew which café to sit in, identified all of the bakeries and brazenly asked some angsty teenagers with skateboards to take his picture. He pointed out each shop that had closed during Greece’s financial crisis.

He knows the neighborhood so well because a block away, Cueto, a live-in Filipino domestic worker stationed in Athens, shares an apartment with two relatives on his weekends off. The rent: 50 euros each month for two bedrooms.

Cueto and his relatives are just a few of the thousands of Filipinos staying in Athens as live-in domestic workers. These migrants, some undocumented, have been affected by Greece’s unstable financial picture, just like everyone else, but their struggles often go unnoticed.

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Podcast: The Silent Sentries of the Greek Presidential Guard

Tourists are endlessly fascinated by the Presidential Guards of Greece, who stand motionless for long periods and then walk with large, theatrical kicks. Who are these men, and why do they do what they do? Jimin Kang talks to George Gasparis, a former Presidential Guard, to find out.


Dozens of Migrants Endure Journey to Lesbos Harbor Town

Anna Wolcke and Tom Salotti and staff reports

MYTILENE, Greece, June 24, 2019 – This morning more than 30 migrants, huddled on two small inflated rafts, sailed across the Aegean and arrived in the port of Mytilene, coming ashore in this harbor town’s scenic commercial district. They appeared to have made their way from Turkey, some seven miles way.

Student reporters from Princeton University were the only journalists to document the 8:30 a.m. arrival, the latest in a steady trickle of migrants onto the island of Lesbos over the last four years.

Minutes after arrival in Greece, migrants cluster on a dock next to a tourist boat. Photo by Tom Salotti

Local authorities could be seen directing the migrants, the scene separated from the town by a harbor security fence. One person was placed on a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance. Others discarded their orange vests and huddled in a tight group along the water’s edge, in full view of tourists and business people beginning their day.

The men, women and children eventually boarded a pair of dark, unmarked buses and apparently were transported to the nearby Moria migrant camp, operated by the Greek government.

The scene unfolded next to a docked ferry that shuttles tourists between Mytilene and a village in Turkey. Hours later, the life vests and the two rafts, one collapsed and one still partially inflated, could be seen abandoned on the town’s dock.

Closeup of discarded rafts and life vests. Photo by Tom Salotti.

Two weeks earlier, a boat carrying 64 people attempted a similar crossing, but overturned. Two children, four women and a man drowned, according to the Hellenic Coast Guard.

Greece has become a primary gateway for refugees flowing into Europe, many of them fleeing conflict in countries like Syria and Afghanistan, creating the continent’s worst migration crisis since World War Two. Increasingly, migrants also arrive from sub-Saharan Africa.

Migrants wait to board bus for refugee reception center. Photo by Joe Stephens

The influx was drastically curtailed by a 2016 accord between Turkey and the EU, but many still attempt the short, perilous journey.

Many easternmost Greek islands are just a few miles from Turkey. In recent months, attempted migrant crossings have increased again. About 9,700 migrants have attempted the trip so far this year, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

Smugglers often use unseaworthy boats and pack them beyond capacity. Rough seas often cause boats to capsize. Last year, a reported 174 people drowned on the route.

There are now more than 7.000 migrants on Lesbos, with at least 35 new boats arriving just this month, according to the organization Aegean Boat Report.

Follow this website for continuing reports on the migration crisis in Greece. 

Talk of Closing Iconic Campus Sparks Debate


Athens Polytechnic’s graffiti-covered campus 


By Brillian Bao

ATHENS — Athens Polytechnic university looms large in this European capital. Though its central campus spans just three and a half blocks, it is widely known as the site of a massive 1973 uprising against the military dictatorship that then ruled Greece, and as the current base where anarchists take shelter from police, who are forbidden from entering its grounds.

Now, it appears the central campus of the iconic institution could be in danger of closing for good.

Polytechnic has nine academic schools, and eight have already been moved two and a half miles away to Zografou. New Democracy party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who is projected to win the upcoming July 7 national election, has said he favors closing the Patision Complex to expand the nearby National Archeological Museum. His nephew Kostas Bakoyannis, who this month was elected as Athens’ mayor, agrees.

“The idea is that it will upgrade the area around it,” said Alexis Papahelas, a Greek investigative journalist and the executive editor of a leading newspaper here, Kathimerini.  “I am sure this will be a huge battle of resistance.”


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As Economy Dropped, Domestic Workforce Rose

Smaro Maniati’s office in Athens Home Services in Central Athens.


By Marissa Michaels

ATHENS — At Athens Home Services, located on the fourth floor of an otherwise quiet and dark building, three women sat waiting in a cheery office, but refused to be photographed or interviewed.

The possibility of their names being published made them noticeably nervous.  A Filipina woman laughed and shook her head but would not speak, even to say “no.” Another woman said that her name was Mimi but would not concede further information.

With forlorn looks, the women would say only that their employers have worked them harder and harder as the Greek economy has plummeted. Their backs now ache.

“When you don’t have money running out of pocket, you ask more for your money and you expect everything,” explained Smaro Maniati, the founder and owner of Athens Home Services.

Greece’s financial crisis, which hit in 2009, has made life harder for almost everyone. The unemployment rate skyrocketed, many public services were cut, and people had to tighten their budgets.

Greece’s vibrant industry of domestic workers, composed mostly of migrants from countries such as the Philippines, Ethiopia, Georgia, and Bulgaria, was also affected.

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Polytech Athens: ‘Be Wild Not Correctly’


Mural of rapper Killah P who was murdered by the far-right political party Golden Dawn in 2013

Mural of murdered rapper Killah P. Photo by Natalie Nagorski

By Anna Wolcke

This post has been updated  

EXARCHIA —  Parts of the original compound of the National Technical University of Athens, one of Greece’s oldest and most prestigious institutions, are in shambles.

Polytech Athens, as it is called by Athenians, in some places is missing some common features of a university. No chairs. No tables. Few professors or students.

Instead there are empty classrooms. Burn marks. Graffiti on inner and outer walls, on staircases, doors and ceilings. “Let’s do some ‘we shouldn’t be doing this’ things,” reads graffiti in a staircase. “Kill cops,” reads another. “Be wild not correctly” (sic.) reads a third.

What used to be one of Greece’s well-preserved historic buildings has in some places become run-down. Established in the late 19th Century, the university became the site of massive demonstrations in 1973, when students started protesting the dictatorship known as the Greek Military Junta.

In November of that year, violence between protesters and the military escalated, starting with a tank entering university grounds, and ending with 40 civilians dead. The riots marked the beginnings of the end of the dictatorship, which fell a year later.

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Startup Turns Young Refugees Into Journalists

By Jack Allen

ATHENS – With its graffiti, posters and history of activism, the area around the National Technical University declares its political fervor. It is a natural home for an organization like Solomon, a new media nonprofit that covers diversity while simultaneously training young Greeks and refugees to produce their own journalism.

“Our name comes from a Portuguese novel, The Elephant’s Journey,” explained Editor in Chief Elvira Krithari. In the tale, Solomon the Elephant is a wedding present from King Joao III of Portugal to Archduke Maximilian of Austria. Solomon makes a perilous journey from Lisbon to Vienna, tromping through a war-torn, disease-ridden land in a trek that has become a metaphor for the journey that many modern-day migrants take to reach Europe. The name lends itself well to another meaning, Krithari added: “We write about the elephant in the room, whatever that may be.”

Fanis Kollias founded the website in 2016, focusing on migration issues and investigative reporting. The site, which publishes in Greek and English, publishes two articles a week on topics that range from far-right European politics to Greece’s controversial “golden visa” scheme, which allows foreigners to obtain Schengen Zone visas in exchange for an investment or house purchase in Greece of more than 250,000 euros ($280,000).

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Chinese Cash Infusion Praised by Port Workers

By Natalie Nagorski

ATHENS – Unlike the rest of the capital region, the port of Piraeus is lined with shiny office buildings and new roads. On the outskirts of a metropolitan area now known for its struggles with the financial crisis, the port of Piraeus terminal is newly renovated, with a Chinese flag flying high above its headquarters.

In 2008, the China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO Group), a Chinese state-owned shipping enterprise, acquired a 35-year franchise right to operate two of Piraeus’ container terminals. Despite protests by Greek workers and pushback from the radical left Syriza political party, the enterprise bought a 67 percent stake in the port authority for $414 million, becoming the primary operator in 2016.

The investment is a key component of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, an effort by the Chinese government to build infrastructure and invest in countries and organizations around the world. Sandwiched between Europe, Asia, and Africa, the port of Piraeus has strategic value for China. President Xi raised the Greek port in his speech at the 2017 Belt and Road Forum, and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras visited China twice following the investment.

COSCO’s involvement at the port coincided with the European debt crisis and an unemployment rate hovering around 25 percent in Greece. Resistance towards Chinese investment in Piraeus is now largely gone, replaced instead with a sense of gratitude from Greek workers.

Tasos Paulopoulos is a port agent for Inchcape Shipping Services. He has worked in the COSCO-owned container terminal for several years. He said he is glad the Greek government handed ownership of the port over to the Chinese state-owned enterprise.

“The good thing about COSCO is that they organize the port,” Paulopoulos said. “Greeks couldn’t do that because it was under government management.”


The economic crisis made finding jobs in the shipping sector difficult for Greeks, with one in four citizens out of work. Estimates show, however, that China has invested $9.88 billion in the Greek economy over the past 10 years, with two-thirds of that amount falling within the transportation sector.

Alexis Papahelas, executive editor of the leading Greek newspaper Kathimerini and an anchor for Skai TV, supported  Chinese investment during the crisis.

“Beggars are not choosers,” Papahelas said, referring to economic support for the port. “The only people who invested during the financial crisis were Chinese.”

Yet the Chinese investment in the port of Piraeus has consequences that extend beyond the barriers of the terminal. Papahelas pointed to growing Chinese influence in the region. He said he doubts a Chinese military fleet would ever land at the port, but that China has exerted its leverage elsewhere.

At a United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in 2017, shortly after the COSCO Group investment, the European Union abstained from criticizing China on human rights abuses for the first time.

Workers at the port, like Penny Christodoulopoulou, are grateful for the new dock worker positions that have been created since the Greek government handed operations at the terminal over to COSCO. Christodoulopoulou has been working at a terminal shop for five years.

“COSCO makes positions, they create jobs for people,” she said. “For Greek people, and for Chinese also.”

Panagiotis Grammatikopoulos, another port agent for Inchcape Shipping company, has lived in Piraeus for his entire life, and has worked at the port for the past decade.

“This period, the last about 10 years, it’s not like years ago,” he said. “From other countries, you see that we have new business, we have new roads, we have new trains; everything is new in Piraeus.”

Continuing the Greek Tradition of Athletics: Asylum Seekers

A soccer goal at Schisto Camp in Athens, Greece. Photo by Tom Salotti

By Tom Salotti

ATHENS – Greece became a symbol of athletics more than 2,000 years ago, when its citizens founded the first Olympic Games.

Today, like their ancestors, Greeks enjoy a variety of sports, many outdoors in a Mediterranean climate featuring warm temperatures and clear skies. Soccer, basketball and volleyball are popular, but Greeks aren’t the only folks getting sunburned on the courts. Migrants, fleeing violence and persecution in the Middle East and Africa, now are also joining the games here.

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