This is an example of the ‘material culture’ of migration. Almost every refugee in Piraeus has a similar pouch. Carefully constructed and waterproof this pouch contains the little money that people have, but most of all the valuable ‘papers’: passport and –upon arrival- the papers provided by the Greek authorities (all of them in Greek). All the refugees have learnt to use the Greek term ‘chartia’ (papers) even when they speak in their own languages. The pouch in this photo belongs to Ahmed (pseudonym), a twenty-five year old man who has come to Greece through Turkey after one failed attempt. Ahmed has survived a dramatic shipwreck in the coast of Turkey that has cost the lives of 42 people including several children. He has explained to us that once the ‘fare’ has been paid, smugglers on the Turkish coast are extremely reluctant to cancel the trip, even if the weather clearly does not permit the journey. Refugees are sometimes forced into the boats at gunpoint, sometimes with inadequate life-jackets. Ahmed finally survived and was rescued by Turkish coast-guars after more than 11 hours in the sea. He embarked on the same journey less than two months later and made it safe to Lesvos this time. Wasn’t he scared after his first experience? He was, but, in his own words “There is no turning back. I want to finish my studies, to work, to have a proper life”.
Following the closure of the humanitarian corridor to North Europe, more than 45.000 refugees remained in Greece. The islands are being evacuated as a matter of priority and more and more refugees are forced to live in makeshift camps in the port of Piraeus and other places around Athens like Elliniko, while a large number remain at the border with FYROM, in the area of Eidomeni, in the hope that the borders will re-open.
The makeshift camps or else ‘unofficial hospitality structures’ (domes philoksenias) depend mostly on the work of local volunteers and NGOs. More than 4.500 persons are forced to live in Piraeus, in small tents that do not properly protect them from the sun, the wind and the rain since the larger tents are fewer and the indoors spaces full.