Nabil Morant, the Syrian doctor who was elected mayor in Ilia

“When you live somewhere, you have to contribute, you have to be an active citizen.”

This has been one of Nabil Morant’s key principles since he settled in Greece in 1989. Born in the Syrian city of Homs, the 52-year-old doctor was elected mayor of the Andravida-Kyllini municipality in the Ilia region of the Peloponnese last Sunday. Morant actually picked up most of his votes in Manolada, a town which has gained a degree of notoriety in recent years after brutal treatment of migrant farm workers was brought to light.

“I believe that Greeks like foreigners because they know what it means to live in a foreign place,” explains Morant, who studied in France and Bulgaria before moving to Lechena, Ilia, where he married a Greek woman, also a doctor.

“The early years were tough. I had to learn the language and win the trust of the locals, people that could one day become my patients,” he adds in fluent Greek.

“There was no Greek language class I could attend at the time so I was studying on my own with the help of my wife,” he says.

The young doctor soon got involved in the local community and became active with several groups, including the sports community. In 2001 he was granted Greek citizenship and the following year he entered local politics. He was elected as a local councilor for 12 successive years.

The new mayor, who is responsible for a municipal district of 25,000 people, says that his top priorities include building new rural roads, keeping the towns clean, improving lightning and completing the area’s water supply system.

What about the foreign farm workers?

“If the state cannot provide solutions [for these people], then we will have to step in as the local administration,” he says about the immigrant workers, whose population is estimated at around 3,000. “Our aim is to improve their living standards and to set up a language tuition center staffed with volunteer teachers.”

More than 30 Bangladeshi strawberry pickers were injured at a farm in Manolada last year when three foremen opened fire on a group of laborers demanding long-overdue pay.

Morant says those events do not do justice to the local population. “The people who assaulted the foreign workers were not even from around here,” he says.

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