18/01/17 Qaiser and Irfan

10 questions with: Qaiser Hussain Rizvi (30), Irfan Hussain Zaidi (31), cousins
From: Karachi, Pakistan
At the time of this interview they had been living at City Plaza since: 04/16

By Ellen Downes
Tues 18 Jan 2022

On the 18th of January 2017 I photographed and interviewed cousins Qaiser and Irfan 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?

Safety. In the camps I didn’t feel safe. Here there is security, there is always somebody doing the security shift here which means that they know exactly who is in the building. Here we can sleep, really sleep.

City Plaza is a home. I know everyone here now and we are one big family.

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

Children, friends, organisation

Goodness, children, support

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

Being able to go out to see friends and family without curfews. I have the freedom to leave and come back to City Plaza whenever I want to, like anyone else living in their home in Athens. In the camps it was very strict, it felt like a prison.

Where is your favourite place to be at City Plaza?

The kitchen. I do the lunch shift here and it’s my favourite time in the day. I worked in a restaurant in Karachi for 1 year and I love to prepare food. I’m most happy when I’m chopping cabbage, ginger, garlic… everything. I love to be in the kitchen!

The Bar. It’s where we all sit together and drink coffee, use the wifi. I like that everyone from different countries spends time together in the same space.

What are your hopes for your future?

I don’t know. I want to work again too. I still do work from my phone everyday for the Cardiac Emergency Center in Karachi. But I want to work more, I have experience as a plumber, welder and as an electrician.

This is very difficult for me to answer. I don’t know what the future holds for us. I want to work again, maybe in a restaurant. I wish I was still in Karachi working.
I was happy in my country. All my family are there.

The Taliban killed my uncle, they attacked my cousin and now he is mentally ill. They know my face now and that’s why I had to leave. If I go back I will be killed.

What will you miss about City Plaza?

I will miss my friends and the way things are organised here. I will miss everything.

How do you contribute towards the running of City Plaza?

Irfan: We both work in the kitchen and help with the children’s activities. Sometimes we clean the building with everyone.

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

In Arabic I can say ‘hello, how are you?’ and ‘I’m fine, and you?’.

What is your best memory so far at City Plaza?

Last night. We were all together celebrating a birthday. We were singing, all of us, my friends from Greece, from England, from Spain, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria. We had such a good time. I will miss these times.

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

Solidarity means we can keep cooking at City Plaza!

Detail of the day:

This morning when I woke up we ate chocolate spread on bread in our room and drank tea together.

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.