17/01/17 Salah, Fatima and Moustafa

10 questions with: Fatima Dangly (61), Moustafa Haj Rashid (38), Salah Haj Rashid (26), mother and sons
From: Aleppo, Syria (Kurdish Syrian)
At the time of this interview they had been living at City Plaza since: 25/05/16

By Ellen Downes
Mon 17 Jan 2022

On the 17th of January 2017 I photographed and interviewed Fatima and her sons Salah and Moustafa while they were living in City Plaza Refugee Accommodation and Solidarity Space in Athens. We were at the time living there together among 400 refugees and activists. Here is our interview from 5 years ago today.

What does City Plaza mean to you?

It means family. We are a big family here. I have Afghan friends, Syrian friends, Pakistani friends. It’s the first time for our family to live with people from different places and to feel that we are all related.

3 words to describe the experience of living with 400 others at City Plaza:

Love, sharing, fun

Unity, happiness, school

Love, fun, tenderness

For you what is the main difference between the refugee camps and City Plaza?

There is a big difference between City Plaza and the camps. Here we have a room, we have privacy. We have a shower, a toilet and our own space. It’s a home here.
In camps there are big problems between the people, there’s a lot of violence. Here, ok there are problems like in every family, but we at least we are safe.
When we were in the camps the conditions were for animals. Here it is clean and we are treated as humans, living together in a home.

Where is your favourite place to be at City Plaza?

The bar. Because everyone, volunteers from all over the world, refugees from different countries, everyone talks together.
It’s not just where we drink coffee. It’s where we share stories of our lives and day to day, in many languages.

My room. I feel relaxed in my room.

What are your hopes for your future?

For the war to end and to go back home.

I want to continue my university studies and finish my degree. (Salah started a degree in Human Rights at Aleppo University but had to leave Syria and his studies in 2013)

What will you miss about City Plaza?

I think about leaving City Plaza a lot. It will be a sad day. It breaks my heart to think about leaving here, leaving my friends and my City Plaza family. We have so many memories here. I know I will cry. When I speak with the families who are now living in Europe they say they miss City Plaza every day and I know it will be the same for me.

How do you contribute towards the running of City Plaza?

In the kitchen. Sometimes I do the dinner shift but mostly I do the breakfast shift. I like to do the breakfast shift because it is a calm time in the day.

Also I work translating here (Moustafa speaks Kurdish, Arabic and English). I go to the hospital, appointments with the doctor and sometimes to see lawyers or to go the phone shop with other refugees who need a translator.

Have you learnt any words here in the languages of refugees from other countries?

Farsi is similar to Kurdish so from the beginning I could communicate a little with people who speak Farsi. Since being here I have learnt how to say how are you? and I’m fine, and you?.

What is your best memory so far at City Plaza?

It’s hard to think of just one! The first time we had an English class here was a great day. The English teachers were my first friends here. They treated me not just as a refugee, but as a human and most of all as a friend.

The day we arrived at City Plaza. We had a very bad time at the camps and when we arrived finally we had a space to be relaxed and safe. It was when I became happy again. Our family had a space to spend time together in privacy. For the first time in months we had electricity, a clean place to live, our own bathroom and access to our own tap.

City Plaza is supported entirely by donations from around the world . What does solidarity mean to you?

It’s amazing. It’s hard for me to put it into words what solidarity means to us. It’s great. Solidarity is the spirit of City Plaza.

Detail of the day:

This morning the first thing that we did, like every morning, we sat together and listened to Kurdish songs.

Like every day, today my mother and I argued (he laughs). Today she said to me over and over ‘you drink too much coffee!’.

City Plaza is a hotel in the heart of Athens. It had been empty and closed for 8 years, then in 2015 its doors were reopened. Europe had just closed its borders leaving 65,000 refugees trapped in Greece. Activists occupied the building and madturned it into a home for 400 refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Iran, Iraq, Palestine & Pakistan. It provided a safe and dignified alternative to detention centres and camps.

From 2015-2019 this 7 floor building provided a safe and dignified alternative to the inhumane conditions of camps in Greece. City Plaza a refugee accommodation space may now be closed, but its spirit will always live on. It will always exist as an example of how peaceful and constructive a way it is possible to welcome refugees.