THE SITUATION ON THE GROUND
After the closing of the Greece-FYROM border in March 2016, over 50000 asylum seekers remain in Greece, waiting to have their asylum claims heard and processed. There are currently about 84,000 registered asylum seekers in Greece, and the Greek ministry predicts that the numbers will increase to more than 90,000 by the end of this year. The government says they only have the capacity to process 20,000 asylum claims per year. People continue to make the risky boat crossing to Mediterranean shores, or risk the equally hazardous land route via Turkey. Indeed, this second route may have accounted for more arrivals into Greece last year than boat arrivals.
Now, the Greek ministry of interior has increased its rate of transfers from the horrendously overcrowded conditions on the islands to try and relieve the situation there. The problem is, the conditions on the mainland are not much better, with tents re-appearing in the camps near Athens for the first time since 2016. These peripheral camps are isolated from Greek society, with limited or non existent public transport to connect to Athens where most services are located.
The number of undocumented migrants, families, individuals escaping war, famine, deadly and corrupt regimes fleeing to Europe is continuously rising. Not all will have the opportunity to leave Greece and be relocated to Europe - most are waiting in limbo, hoping for their status to be recognised and for any opportunity on which to build a future.
In the midst of uncertainty and waiting, the task of ‘filling time’ must become that of ‘using time’.
Our Refugee Library project exists to provide them with opportunities to equip themselves with skills and knowledge for the future that lies beyond this long wait.
These are individuals hungry for action, for work, for education – most are former students, skilled workers, and professionals whose lives have been violently uprooted.
We hope to provide them with the know-how they need to carry their experience and knowledge into the next stage of their journeys.
Their lives are at a standstill; they need not be.
Our work began in August 2016, when we established a library in Vasilika camp in Northern Greece. In November 2016, we launched our mobile library, to service multiple camps in the Thessaloniki (Northern Greece) area. Since May, 2017, the mobile library has relocated to Athens, visiting sites throughout the city, and the camps where services are few.
Our aim in setting up these libraries is to nurture a space of learning and creativity, a place to cultivate the mind - that one part of us that can never be held captive. It is a place where goals and ambition can be worked towards, regardless of the grim reality of the present. In our library spaces, we provide the following:
Books and a quiet reading space
Access to online learning and information on educational opportunities
Language learning resources and informal small group tutoring
Advice on university and job application processes
A space for community-led creative workshops
Learn more about our mobile library here!