23/01/17 Mohammed

10 questions with: Mohammed Hossin (18)
From: Aleppo, Syria (Kurdish Syrian)
At the time of this interview he had been living at City Plaza since: 18/08/16

By Ellen Downes
Sun 23 Jan 2022

On the 23rd of January 2017 I photographed and interviewed Mohammed while he 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?

Family. I felt very alone after I left my family in Aleppo. When I came to City Plaza it was the first time I felt love from many people around me. I have found my second family here.

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

Friends, democracy, equality

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

There are a lot of differences. For 6 months I washed in cold water, I ate very basic food (over 6 months Mohammed lived in 7 different camps and 1 squat before coming to City Plaza). Spaghetti and rice, spaghetti and rice, spaghetti and rice! People get sick a lot in the camps, with all the mosquitos, rubbish, cold water, poor diet and no doctor.

The main difference for me is that there is hope at City Plaza. At the camps every day I thought to myself ‘today or tomorrow things will get worse, I’m sure’. Here I feel hope for my future.

Where is your favourite place to be at City Plaza?

In the bar. It’s where everyone spends time together as a real community. We talk about everything, we drink coffee, we play chess. You can always find me in the bar.

What are your hopes for your future?

I want to go to Germany. I want to travel one day too. I love the Shakespeare play A Merchant of Venice, I’d love to go to Venice. When I’m in Germany I want to study Chemistry and work part-time as a translator. I really don’t want to work in a factory again. Before I came to Greece I lived in Istanbul for 5 months. I worked on the factory line making clothes. I had no money in this time so I couldn’t eat. We were only given coffee, just to keep us awake. I worked 32 hour days. I don’t want to work somewhere like that again.

What will you miss about City Plaza?

Everything. I don’t want to leave. I’ll miss waking up in the morning and saying hello to everyone. I’ll miss translating. I’ll miss playing football, my friends, and playing chess. I’ll miss everything.

How do you contribute towards the running of City Plaza?

Translating. (Mohammed speaks Kurdish, Arabic, Turkish and English. He learnt Turkish in 5 months in Istanbul and English in 6 months in Greece). I spend a lot of my day translating, at the hospital, with the doctor, and for lots of things at City Plaza.

How often do you speak with your family?

Every week on WhatsApp and Messenger. It’s been 2 years since I had to leave my family. The police tried to make me fight in the war because I was 16. I didn’t want to fight, so I had to leave. It was a very bad moment when I had to say goodbye to my family (Mohammed’s parents, 2 of his brothers and his sister are still living in Aleppo and his other brother now lives in Germany).

What is your best memory so far at City Plaza?

My birthday. It was a very nice day. More than 40 of us spent the evening together. All my friends wrote birthday messages in notebook for me. I will never forget this day.

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

When you have solidarity, you have strength. When solidarity exists, we are winning. You can’t clap with only one hand, everyone has to support each other in these times.

Detail of the day:

Today I had a shift in the bar making coffees. Now I’m drinking tea in the bar answering these questions and later, I’m sure I will be translating!

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.