20/01/17 Ali

10 questions with Ali Agha (27)
From: Kandahar, Afghanistan
At the time of this interview he had been living at City Plaza since: 09/16

By Ellen Downes
Thurs 20 Jan 2022

On the 18th of January 2017 I photographed and interviewed Ali while he was 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?

City Plaza is the sun. It gives light to refugees from different countries. It is a home of hope.

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

Hope, friendship, home

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

The difference is that in camps we are treated as refugees, as if we all came from jungles not countries. From the first day that I arrived at City Plaza I have been treated as a human being. I said ‘I’m a Ahmed Agha, a refugee from Afghanistan’ and Olga (member of the communication team at City Plaza) told me, ‘no, you are human, like everyone else’. She gave me hope. I felt that I am really something again, at the camps I had felt that I was nothing.

Where is your favourite place to be at City Plaza?

The kitchen. In the kitchen I’m working as volunteer, I help the chef. In the kitchen I feel happy. I’m not only washing dishes or preparing food, I’m helping 400 refugees, for this reason I have a huge feeling of happiness in this place.

What are your hopes for your future?

I don’t have dreams, I have aims: to be healthy and to have an education. My want for the future is for everyone to join together to save humanity.

What will you miss about City Plaza?

I will miss everyone. My home, my family, my friends my kitchen here. I will miss everyone.

How do you contribute towards the running of City Plaza?

I participate in all the shifts here, working in the kitchen, cleaning the building. I also work with volunteers to help with the children’s activities.

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

In Kurdish I can say ‘how are you?, I’m fine, and you?’. In Arabic I can say the same and of course I know the word that everyone knows here, habibi (my love in Arabic).

What is your best memory so far at City Plaza?

The first day of Eid. When I woke up I was a little upset because I wasn’t with my family. But when I went downstairs and everyone greeted me with happiness and love, I realised that I would be spending this special day with my City Plaza family.

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

Actually, I have a message to everyone who will read this: Imagine if you can that you are a refugee, that you have had to flee your country, that your family has been forced to separate, that your biggest want in the world is to have a home and to be safe. Please join us in solidarity. I believe that if everyone stands together in solidarity, refugees included, that we can save humanity, create hope and together build a brighter future. Humanity. Humanity. Humanity.

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.