COMMUNITY

Refugee community center set to open on Lesvos

ANTHI PAZIANOU

TAGS: Migration, Charity, Initiative

Just a 10-minute walk from the municipal-run camp of Kara Tepe and a bit over a half-hour from the Moria migrant camp north of Mytilene, the capital of Lesvos, a community center currently under construction on a 1.5-acre site aspires to become a magnet for individuals stranded on the eastern Aegean island by offering a wide range of activities.

Run by the Swiss Cross charity, the center, which is set to open in the coming days, was built by migrants with the help of volunteers who arrived here from different parts of Europe. The project is called “One Happy Family.”

The facility will provide a coffee shop (complete with nargile), a home cinema, a library and a garden. The O Allos Anthropos (Fellow Man) group has agreed to provide about 1,000 servings of food. The entire project will cost 200,000 euros, which includes rent for the first 12 months.

“The Swiss are very good at organizing, while the Greeks are good at hospitality, so great things can come out of that mix,” Achilleas Peklaris, a writer and journalist now working for Swiss Cross, told Kathimerini.

After doing charity work in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, Swiss Cross moved to Lesvos, prompted by the tragic deaths of Moria camp residents living outdoors in tents in freezing conditions this past winter.

The charity was the brainchild of Michael Raber, a former IT consultant in Bern. His family used to spend their summer holidays in Molyvos. “In 2015 they saw the [migrant] boats coming. It was a shock to them and they went out to help the refugees who landed on the shore,” Peklaris said. “After that they decided to contribute,” he said.

At first they collected money from friends and relatives and then via Facebook. It was the only Swiss organization operating in Greece. They also provided help in Idomeni, on Greece’s border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as well as in Athens and at other refugee facilities.

“When we first came here, we had no clear idea about what sort of project we would get involved in. We arrived here with an open mind. We talked to the mayor, the governor of Kara Tepe, representatives of the local community and businesspeople about what we should do,” he said.

“Everyone agreed that what was needed was a place where refugees would keep themselves busy as a means of avoiding tension. We are building a place which, when completed, will not resemble a refugee facility,” he said.

“When I see them return here at night, then I know we are doing something right. We provide them with a space that is not a camp – it is their own space,” said Fabian Bracher, Swiss Cross coordinator on Lesvos.

Beri Kinta, a 27-year-old man from Afghanistan staying at the Moria camp, has been visiting the community center to help in the effort to get it up and running. “We like doing stuff with our hands, giving them shape,” he said. “I believe this place will be great when it’s done.”

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