24/01/17 Hamed

10 questions with: Hamed Ganji (23)
From: Iran (Afghan Iranian)
At the time of this interview he had been living at City Plaza since: 04/16

By Ellen Downes
Mon 24 Jan 2022

On the 24th of January 2017 I photographed and interviewed Hamed at 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?

For me City Plaza is paradise. Here I don’t think, ‘I’m from Afghanistan, you’re from England’, I just think ‘we’re family’. This building is all of our home.

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

Challenging, amazing, strength

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

What’s the difference between the camps and City Plaza? It’s hell vs paradise. Here (counts on his fingers) we have hot water, enough food, safety, a doctor, there’s no racism, no violence.
I don’t wish for anyone to live in the camps. (Hamed lived in 4 different camps and then on the street before coming to City Plaza).

Where is your favourite place to be at City Plaza?

I love every place! I can’t choose one place. You know, City Plaza is like a pagoda on the edge of a village. It’s where we all have come to finally be relaxed and safe. I like being in the bar, sitting with everyone and taking a break in the day, drinking coffee, being calm. I love to be in my bed, in the reception, the kitchen. My room is my love! My bed is my God! My pillow is my wife!

What are your hopes for your future?

I want everyone here at City Plaza to get to where they want to go. I want for the world to be without war. I want the borders to open. I want for everyone, everywhere to understand that we are all human. And most of all: I want racism to stop. I miss my job in Iran. (Hamed worked as an interior designer). I didn’t work for money, I was really in love with my work. In the future I want to work again of course, but first I hope I can go to a university and study.

What will you miss about City Plaza?

Everything. I don’t wanI can’t leave Plaza. I love Plaza.

When I was in Iran always they said to me, ‘you’re from Afghanistan’ and every time it crushed my heart. At school the headteacher would ask, ‘who is from Afghanistan?’ and I had to raise my hand in shame. You know, I wanted to die at school. ‘Afghan’ has been a dirty word all my life. But at City Plaza, it has been the first time that I don’t feel ashamed of where my family are from. It’s a big risk for me to leave City Plaza. I’m scared. I don’t want people to treat me as dirty again. I don’t want to leave this paradise. 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?

Cooking (smiles). I was a chef here for 2 months when City Plaza first opened, now I work preparing the food.

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

Now I can say the basics in Arabic, Urdu, Turkish and Kurdish.

What is your best memory so far at City Plaza?

The first day. I was one of the first 50 refugees through the door of City Plaza. There were at least 100 people inside waiting for us. Every single person said, ‘welcome’. I wanted to cry, really. It was so amazing for me.

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

Solidarity means no borders. If everyone thought without borders and wanted to welcome refugees as humans, we could all be safe together. Life for us is very hard, when people understand this and want to help, this is solidarity.

Detail of the day:

Today I woke up at 9 o’clock this morning to go to Greek classes.

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.