Reporting on the front lines of history in Greece

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Greek PM Urges Voter Turnout Ahead of Sunday Elections

By Brillian Bao

ATHENS — Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras spoke to a crowd of more than 1,000 supporters at his final campaign rally Thursday night in Syntagma Square. Over the course of an hour, the prime minister urged those in attendance to vote in Sunday’s national elections, which many opinion polls have projected the prime minister will lose.

Tsipras, who heads Greece’s leftist Syriza party, was elected in 2015 at the height of the country’s financial crisis. Running on a pledge to oppose the severe austerity terms set by Greece’s lenders in return for two international bailouts totaling more than 240 billion euros, Tspiras and his party won 149 of the 300 seats in parliament, just two short of the number needed to govern alone.

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Sewage Overwhelms Infamous Migrant Camp

By Natalie Nagorski

MORIA, Greece – The first thing migrants notice when they set foot in Moria camp is the stench of raw sewage pouring into a nearby trash-filled ditch. The stream of green waste water races along the border of the camp, casting a smell across the place once called “the worst refugee camp on earth.”

In September 2018, the International Rescue Committee reported that there were 72 people per functioning toilet and 84 people per functioning shower at Moria camp. Since then, a team of 10 volunteers from the Watershed Foundation has spent its days building sanitation systems.

Moria camp is a formal Greek military base, which has housed close to 10,000 migrants at some points over the past four years. After an agreement between the EU and Turkey to return refugees to Turkey was enacted in 2016, the transfer process slowed at Moria, making it more difficult for residents to leave the camp. Officially dubbed a “transfer site,” Moria has become a long-term solution for many. Conditions at the camp have suffered from the backlog in the transfer process.

“I can’t even think about being a woman in Moria and going to the toilet in the middle of the night,” Aphrodite Vati Mariola said about her concerns surrounding sexual assault in the camp. Mariola manages a hotel in Lesbos, and helped many migrants when they landed on the island.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), about 180 women reported being sexually assaulted in 2017 alone, after arriving on the island in Greece.

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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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Europe’s Migrant Crisis, by the Numbers

By Brillian Bao

LESBOS, Greece — Though the influx of migrants to Europe has slowed since the refugee crisis began in 2015, the EU remains deeply divided over resettlement and integration plans. Greece has been especially impacted by the crisis because of its proximity to Turkey. Of the reported 26,388 people who have arrived by sea so far this year, 12,258 arrived in Greece, according to the United Nations. While the European Commission has granted Greece more than 816.4 million euros in emergency assistance, some of Greece’s refugee camps continue to receive criticism for poor conditions.

1. How many migrants have arrived in Europe?

The number of arrivals peaked in October 2015, when an estimated 220,579 migrants reached Europe by crossing the Mediterranean, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

There are three main migratory routes in the Mediterranean: The Central Mediterranean route (from North Africa to Italy), the Eastern Mediterranean route (from Turkey to Greece), and the Western Mediterranean route (from Morocco to Spain). The EU has focused especially on reducing irregular arrivals along the central route, which is the most-used route of the three.

The graphs in this article are interactive. In the graph below, double-click on the legend to isolate a specific year. Hover over the graph for options to download the plot as a png file, zoom, compare data, and more.

Data Source: IOM

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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. 

The Late Anarchists

By Amy Abdalla

ATHENS – On an afternoon in June, a German researcher, a Croatian couple on vacation and an American journalism student gathered outside of what looked like an abandoned building. “Maybe this is when they ambush us,” one man joked while banging on the chained doors.

The German pulled out her mobile phone and displayed a photo of a poster, to reassure everyone they were in the right place. Copies of the red and black poster were plastered on walls across Exarcheia, Athens’ anarchist-controlled neighborhood, and announced a gathering to discuss the eviction of refugees from abandoned buildings in Greece.

Intrigued, each of these foreigners had made his or her way to the Gini building of Polytechnic University at 6 p.m., just as the poster prescribed. What they hadn’t realized was that anarchists aren’t known for being punctual.

The group bided its time by examining the graffiti that caked the outside of the building. Political statements on issues including LGBTQ rights, anti-war sentiment, migrant inclusion and anarchist power covered almost every inch of the once-cream-colored campus.

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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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