16/01/17 Subhia and Mohammed

10 questions with: Subhia Al-wazir (55), Mohammed Tamim (18), mother and son
From: Damascus, Syria (Palestinian Syrian)
At the time of this interview they had been living at City Plaza since: 25/04/16

By Ellen Downes
Sun 16 Jan 2022

On the 16th of January 2017 I photographed and interviewed mother and son Subhia and Mohammed while they were living in City Plaza Refugee Accommodation and Solidarity Space. We were at the time living 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 a mother to everyone here. It holds us in its arms. All of us are its children, no matter where we’re from or which religion we follow.

For me City Plaza is a school. I have learnt many languages and have learnt many things. We have all learnt to use what we have to create something from nothing. For example we cook using very simple things and make delicious food.

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

Love, co-operation, safety

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

The feeling of being part of a big family. That feeling doesn’t exist in camps. Also the way that you’re treated, in camps you are treated just as a refugee but here at City Plaza we are treated as humans and equals.

Where is your favourite place to be at City Plaza?

In the bar because it’s the area where we sit together every day. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry. It’s the place where we share everything.

My room is my favourite place. I like to communicate with people, a lot, but sometimes I get tired. I like to spend time alone in my room.

What are your hopes for your future?

The most important thing is for our whole family to be together again. Once we have arrived in Germany it will then be a question of learning the language and finding work again. (Subhia is a psychologist, specialised in working with children with learning difficulties.)

What will you miss about City Plaza?

Many things! The smiling faces. For sure everyone here has problems and sadness inside them, but at the same time everyone finds the time to smile. Especially the people who organise things here. Actually, there’s something which makes the idea of leaving easier. We know that we can stay in contact. I will continue to work to support City Plaza when I am living in Germany. From there I will do as much as I can to send love, appreciation and goodness to City Plaza so that it can continue to support other refugees and their families.

How do you contribute towards the running of City Plaza?

As a chef twice a week in the kitchen. And also, as I’m 55, naturally I’ve been involved in resolving arguments and solving problems with families.

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

Now I can say How are you?/I’m fine, and you?/thank you in Kurdish, Farsi, Turkish and Urdu.

What is your best memory so far at City Plaza?

The first day of Eid. When I woke up I was really upset, I was so sad that our family wouldn’t spend the day together. Everything got better when I left my room and saw everyone sharing happiness all together. We cooked together in the kitchen and then danced and listened to music. This was the day that I felt that I really have a family here and learnt what this place means to me.

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

For me, solidarity means much more than money or material things. Solidarity is others helping me through these hard times, by standing with me wherever they are. Of course it’s necessary to support people with donations but it’s not everything. Solidarity for me is emotional.

Detail of the day:

Mohammed: When we woke up we called my father who is in Germany.

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.