JASMIN REFUGEE SQUAT, ATHENS

August, 2016

About 57,000 refugees are effectively trapped in Greece following the closure of the border with Macedonia and the EU-Turkey agreement. Many are living in official refugee camps on the outskirts of Athens or further afield. Another response to the crisis - initiated by Athenian activists - is illegal squatting. At least a dozen refugee squats have sprung up in Athens in recent months, many of them to the north of the city centre where buildings abandoned in the wake of the financial crisis are easily entered and appropriated. 


These pictures were taken at the Jasmin squat at Varthi Square, a former school building that is now home to about 350 refugees. Most of them are Syrian and while the conditions are appallingly basic, the people I spoke to would far rather live at Jasmin than one of the government-run camps. 


The August weather in Athens is unforgiving. Temperatures hover at 36C and it is hard to sleep in the airless rooms of the old school. But activists - both local and international - have organised a rudimentary medical clinic and language classes for adults and their children. Many Greek people - a country with a proud history of accepting refugees - visit Jasmin to donate food, clothes and time. 


Inside the old school, tents have been erected inside the large rooms to offer a tiny amount of privacy to families. There are tensions, of course, and a pervading sense of desperation. But the worst thing, according to the young Syrian men I met on the fourth floor, is the boredom. With no money and no official status, they wait in the sweltering heat, smoking a dwindling supply of tobacco and drinking sweet black tea. 
The two men sitting on the floor are 21-year-old friends, two graphic design students from Damascus. Both decided to flee Syria when the army tried to conscript them. They didn't want to kill fellow Syrians they said. We talked about Photoshop and cruise missiles, the difficulty of learning Arabic and the horrendous two year journey that had brought them to Athens. 


I wished them luck, which seemed trite and wholly inadequate. But we shook hands and hugged, friends of sorts.


The future of Jasmin is, like most squats, uncertain. For now, the police are turning a blind eye, but recent events in Thessaloniki - where police cleared a series of squats - have made everyone nervous. No one takes Jasmin - primitive though it is - for granted.

Jasmin squat, Athens

Two friends, former graphic design students from Damascus, smoke in their room at the Jasmin squat, Athens.

Jasmin squat, Athens

Two rooms on the top floor of the Jasmin squat, an abandoned school.

Jasmin squat, Athens

A pile of donated jeans sits in an open window of the Jasmin squat, Athens

Jasmin squat, Athens

Tents have been erected in the large rooms of the squat where as many as ten people live. The tents offer a modicum of privacy to the residents.

Jasmin squat, Athens

A man emerges from a room on the top floor of the Jasmin squat, Athens

Jasmin squat, Athens

Children play in the stairwell of the Jasmin squat. The older child insisted on being photographed pretending to slit the throat of his friend with his knife.

Jasmin squat, Athens

Children take shelter from the 36C heat in the courtyard of the Jasmin squat, Athens

Jasmin squat, Athens

Children look for their pictures on a mural created as part of an art project at the Jasmin squat

Jasmin squat, Athens

A child reacts to hearing the voice of a relative in Syria as his parents look on.

Jasmin squat, Athens

A note taped to the wall of the Jasmin squat. Most of the 350 occupants are Syrian.