21/01/17 Nassi, Jamshed, Sadaf and Siyar

10 questions with Nassi Shams (30), Jamshed Shams (36) and their children Sadaf (12) and Siyar (6), they also have a 7 month old baby who has been living through a life support machine in hospital since birth.
From: Kabul, Afghanistan
At the time of this interview they had been living at City Plaza since: 05/16

By Ellen Downes
Fri 21 Jan 2022

On the 21st of January 2017 I photographed this beautiful family 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’s a place where 400 people feel at home, like a big family house.

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

Safety, education, facilities

Happiness, safety, security

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

Privacy. Here at City Plaza we have our own room, a place where my family can really spend time together. In the camps we had no privacy, 800 people shared 1 shower.

For me it’s the peace here that makes City Plaza so different. Every day in the camps there’s fighting between people, the police have to be there a lot. It’s better for our children at City Plaza. They go to school. They can have a place to feel calm. We are near parks, shops, the hospital. I can’t imagine how it would be to be travelling from a camp every day to see our baby in hospital.

Where is your favourite place to be at City Plaza?

My room. I feel relaxed in our room.

I love to be next to the reception area. I love to the watch the coordination team working, speaking with everyone, organising, translating. I can’t understand what they’re saying, but I love to listen.

What are your hopes for your future?

Most of all I want to see my children well-educated because I didn’t have an education in Afghanistan (Jamshed worked as a shoemaker and then a shopkeeper of a hardware store). All I want is for my children to have a bright future ahead of them. I would like to work again. My health isn’t good and at my age I can’t work in labour, but I would love to open a coffee shop maybe, or a restaurant.

What will you miss about City Plaza?

I will miss how we’ve always been treated here, always with dignity and respect. I will miss the respect at City Plaza.

I will miss my friends here, especially Nasim and Olga (members of the coordination team at City Plaza). They have been so good to me and my family. And I will miss the food here! I will miss small things too, like waiting in the line for food, laughing and joking with everyone.

How do you contribute towards the running of City Plaza?

We both work in the kitchen preparing and serving food.

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

I can say the basics in Urdu: ‘hello,how are you?’ and ‘I’m fine, and you?’.

What is your best memory so far at City Plaza?

When I arrived at City Plaza I was 8 months pregnant, I spoke to Olga about my problems with the pregnancy and she hugged me and welcomed me into a home for our family. This moment I will never forget.

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

In these hard times, during this crisis for refugees from so many different countries, solidarity has to mean everyone coming together to solve the problems we are facing. Everybody needs to communicate more and I believe we can save our futures. For me solidarity means talking all together regardless of our race or religion. Being together, standing together.

Detail of the day:

The moment that Ellen knocked on our door this morning and joined us for breakfast and tea in our room was a beautiful moment for me and for my family. We love to have guests and share what we have.

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.