Wednesday

25th Apr 2018

Hotel Refugee: Greek volunteers create migrant home

An abandoned hotel in the city centre of Athens has become home to hundreds of refugees.

Run by a coalition of left-wing activists and volunteers, the City Plaza hotel is a citizen-driven response to a government struggling to house refugees and asylum seekers.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • The squat also has its own clinic, run by volunteer doctors (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

Among its 400 residents is Moustafa Hajrashid, a Kurdish Syrian from a village outside Aleppo, who is caring for his sick mother and his younger and handicapped brother.

"We are like one big family," the 38-year old told EUobserver on Wednesday (19 October) as he poured out strong coffee.

The family arrived from Turkey earlier this year and were shuffled through several camps in Greece until they ended up at the hotel squat.

"We had a wonderful life in Syria before the war," he said.

Moustafa was a florist and had also had a floral shop in Lebanon for several years. His father stayed behind.

Moustafa worries about his mother's declining health. The 61-year old is often in and out of hospital given her poor condition.

All three of them are likely to end up in France after being registered in the EU's relocation scheme, he says.

City Plaza

City Plaza opened its doors in late April after police turned away refugees camping out by nearby Victoria square in the Panteleimonas district of Athens.

The timing coincided with border closures along the Western Balkan migratory route and an EU deal to return asylum seekers to Turkey, which created a bottleneck of refugees and other migrants in Greece.

A legacy of the Greek economic crisis, the hotel had stood empty since 2010.

Today, its seven floors and some 90 rooms are home to people who come mostly from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria, as well as a handful of people from African states.

The room, shared by Moustafa and his mother and brother for the past few months, is like any standard hotel room. There is a large queen-sized bed, a small refrigerator, a desk, a toilet and a shower, but no hot water.

The entrance is staffed by volunteers, who screen people as they enter and leave.

Behind the reception desk on the ground floor is a small medical clinic run by a volunteer paediatrician. The shelves are full of medical supplies.

On the second floor is a cafe, a dining area, a play room for children, and a large kitchen where cooks are busy preparing lunch.

The hotel is largely self-sufficient, with refugees and volunteers assigned to duties that range from cleaning and healthcare, to childcare and education.

"We are not a government initiative. We don't have NGOs behind us," says 33-year old Nikos Vassilopoulos, one of the founders of the initiative.

Volunteers pure and simple

Vassilopoulos is one of many Greeks who have taken it upon themselves to care for people often left abandoned.

Last summer he and other activists formed a group to help people looking for places to stay. Some were living in Areos, a large park. Others were in Victoria Square.

"We started thinking that we need a proper shelter for refugees, so more of a housing project," said Vassilopoulos.

With tenants able to stay as long as they like, the hotel filled up quickly. A waiting list of more than 1,000 are now hoping to get the same opportunity.

Vassilopoulos says donations from abroad help pay the bills for electricity, water, food, and medical supplies, but he is worried that Athens’ municipal authority might shut down the project in the name of public health issues.

"We have doctors who volunteered. There is no actual problem with public health. I mean, it’s better than a park. It’s a lot better than a camp," he said.

Amalia Zepou, the vice mayor of Athens, told EUobserver that City Plaza-type initiatives need to be controlled.

"The reaction of community groups and solidarity action is fantastic, but they contain a huge danger," she said.

She cited hygiene issues and said that human smugglers often seek out clients in squats.

"Our responsibility, of the municipality, of the government, is to include them so that you pick up the best practices," she said.

Souls in transit

City Plaza also has its own security team to stop drug dealers or traffickers from entering the building. Anyone who enters must sign in and out and doors are locked at night.

Rabee Abotara, a Syrian refugee from Damascus, helps coordinate daily life in the building.

The 26-year old uses charisma and his foreign language skills to manage the four teams of people that keep things running smoothly. That includes making the women and children who live there feel safe.

"I feel at home here," he says.

Like the Hajrashid family, Abotara's days in Greece are likely numbered, however. He too is set to go to France via the EU's relocation scheme.

His first choice was Spain, but he would also be happy to go to France.

"I'll learn French in one month," he says.

Cities demand access to EU migration funds

Cities are struggling to deal with the influx of refugees and asylum seekers, but EU funds go to national governments, and mayors complain they are getting no help.

EU buries migration dispute for now

This week's EU summit will take no new decision on how to manage the migration crisis. But differences of approach remain between member states.

Opinion

EU needs a moral migration policy

Europe has the wealth to show moral leadership on migration, but its preoccupation with getting migrant numbers down could make matters worse.

Opinion

Calling time on European-Turkish strategic relations

With an Erdogan-Putin summit on Tuesday, joined by Iran on Wednesday, it is time for Europe to face facts - Turkey's ties with the West are no longer strategic. When Europe goes hither, Turkey deliberately goes thither.

EU mulls coercion to get refugee kids' fingerprints

EU policy and law makers are ironing out final details of a legislative reform on collecting the fingerprints of asylum seekers and refugees, known as Eurodac. The latest plan includes possibly using coercion against minors, which one MEP calls "violence".

News in Brief

  1. Far-right attack migrants on Greek island
  2. Merkel defends accepting UN refugees
  3. EU commissioner plans Malta 'money laundering' inspection
  4. Survey: Half of high polluting farms receive CAP subsidies
  5. Commission will 'not shy away' from Malta killing repercussions
  6. EU Commission opens probe on Alitalia state loan
  7. Paris suspect given 20-year sentence for Brussels shoot-out
  8. Merkel and Pena Nieto praise EU-Mexico trade agreement

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  2. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  3. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  4. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  6. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  7. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  8. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  9. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  10. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  11. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight

Latest News

  1. EU in race to set global AI ethics standards
  2. Juncker delays air quality action due to busy agenda
  3. Spain makes bid for EU naval HQ
  4. How Russian propaganda depicts Europe - should we worry?
  5. MEPs tell Chinese ambassador of concerns on trade
  6. Greenland votes with eye on independence
  7. EU court delivers blow to anti-abortion activists
  8. Hungary activists defiant after 'Soros Mercenaries' attack

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  2. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  3. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  6. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  7. European Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  8. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  9. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  10. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  11. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  12. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations