Nabil Morad was born in Syria, studied medicine in Bulgaria, where he met and married his Greek wife. He practiced medicine in Greece for several years before he became mayor for several terms in a row. He speaks 5 languages and is clearly brilliant. The town and the refugees who live nearby adore him, and after meeting him, it is obvious why.
One of the reasons why he is so adored strangely has to do with a beachside resort in his town going bankrupt, mostly as a result both of the Greek economic crisis and also its isolated location. Mayor Morad saw an opportunity to house some of the 55,000+ refugees in Greece -- who are indefinitely stranded in Greece due to the recent EU/Turkey agreement -- at the abandoned property. The resort is consists of several semi-detached villas has recently become home to 300 people, the vast majority of them families, thanks to this man. Although living here is still less than ideal, that is 300 less people living in squalor in overcrowded camps.
The visit was surreal. Upon arrival, the place looked like it could be a set for the Walking Dead. There was no soul in sight. The sun was overwhelmingly bright and hot, steam was rising from the pavement, and the cicadas were out in full force. The basketball and tennis courts are webs of tangled nets. Empty swimming pools collect muddy rainwater that turns into smelly sludge. And its location, 4 hours away from Athens by car, places it in the middle of nowhere. I was expecting to see endless movement that you see at other camps, but here, there was just silence and stillness. A small child walked across the pockmarked basketball court dragging a toy. Pulling in past the main office, we finally saw signs of life -- some refugees sitting together under a tree sipping coffee while a young man filled a small fountain with water from a hose. One teenage girl was braiding a British volunteer's hair. An older man counted his prayer beads.
The mayor visited that day, so we got to meet him. We also got to meet a number of families who live there. One family of 12 (including relatives) share in a villa that accommodates 3 people, maybe 4. "Yes, it is beautiful, but we cannot truly enjoy it," said Faris, the father, a cheerful man who cracks dad jokes whenever he has the opportunity. I can see why they can't enjoy: It is hot and humid, and there is no A/C. They can't cook, because the town is 90 minute walk away and they don't have money. The food is provided by the Greek military's catering company and is admittedly quite terrible and repetitive. They get 10 days worth of prepared meals that get put in a big fridge. By the second day, the food is stale and tasteless. Kids don't have anywhere to go to burn their energy. There is a school, *IF* they have volunteers there to run it, which is not always the case. There is very little to do but sit outside in the sun and attend the daily established beach/swim time, which provides some major relief from the heat and boredom.
After spending about 6 hours at the resort, I was completely exhausted, sunburned and hungry. I even had to take a nap on the office couch just to make it through the day. If I lived there, I think I would actually go insane. Yes, the residents try to get creative about problem-solving (gardening, building clay ovens, petitioning the government for changes), but no one knows how long they'll be there. It's just a waiting game. They can't leave Greece. They can't live in the camps. They can't rent apartments in the city. So they just wait.
The danger in posting these particular pictures and video is that they don't portray the difficulties in living here. Yes, the resort is obviously better than the refugee camps. (and trust me, almost anything is better than the refugee camps. Some refugees live on the streets of the larger cities because that is better than the camps), and no, they're not being bombed. But the residents still yearn for their former lives, or at least the opportunity to build a new one, where they had control over even the most trivial things like choosing what to eat, going into town, visiting family, owning a couch, and getting medical help when needed. Mayor Morad does what he can to make a difference, but most of the decisions ultimately are not up to him. In the meantime, they try to make the most of it.