Greek Leftists and Anarchists say they have found a better alternative to camps for Europe’s refugees: the continent’s empty buildings. The buildings’ owners don’t necessarily agree.
Shirine Othman, a 20-year-old refugee from Syria now living in Athens, can’t say enough good things about where she has ended up living. She bustles around her small room, pointing out the wall-mounted hairdryer, then bounces briefly on the bed before smoothing out the polyester coverlet. She enthuses about the spacious closet and the anodyne wall art on her one-minute tour, then says she has saved the best for last.
When Othman, her husband and their two children arrived in Greece in March, after a terrifying night crossing from Turkey in a rubber boat, they were shunted into one of the country’s vast outdoor refugee camps. There they spent several weeks battling the cold, mud and rain in a tiny camping tent. Othman, seven months pregnant at the time, found herself sprinting for the distant portable toilets several times a night. Because of her pregnancy, Othman was able to apply for special permission to relocate to Athens, where she found something much better. “What I love about this place is that I have my own room. I can close the door, and be alone with my family,” she says, ducking into the tiny en suite. She beams in front of the mirror: “And we have our own bathroom.”