Nasim Lomani (from Ghazni, Afghanistan) has been living in Greece for 16 years. City Plaza Hotel had been closed for 8 years before Nasim among others reopened its doors to 400 refugees last April.
City Plaza as a refugee accommodation and solidarity space demonstrates that an alternative to the inhumane conditions of the camps and detention centres is possible. Nasim talks about the wider role of its presence and how the public voice of City Plaza is managed:
What does it involve to be part of the media and communication team of City Plaza?
It is one of the most important jobs here to publicise and speak about current issues from the position we’re in here at City Plaza.
We have to be fast to react. For example when refugees recently died in the camps, we were quick to publicise the situation.
One of the photos published on the City Plaza Facebook page on the day (30/01/17) a refugee died in Moria Detention Center
The role of the media group is to send out a message with all that we post and publish. Whether it’s documenting and sharing day to day life at City Plaza or commenting on and sharing information about other issues relating to migrants, the message must always be: ‘open your eyes, see the refugees. They are here’.
Why is it important for City Plaza to have an internet presence?
It is important for the general discussion about City Plaza and its wider context to take place all over the world. Those who are in solidarity with this project can feel and be involved from wherever they are thanks to the internet. The internet allows word and ideas to spread wide and far.
We decided to have Facebook and Twitter profiles as they are both so widely used. It’s also a way that we can maintain contact with international volunteers who come here and refugees who have left.
We share information and present the reality of life for refugees both here and in Greece in general. We try to keep a balance content wise, to make everything as accessible as possible. We use photos, videos, texts.
How do you choose the content?
In general we try to speak about City Plaza in its wider context. We never, ever say that it’s in anyway separate from the whole situation.
We post about the camps first and foremost. City Plaza is not just a hotel that now houses refugees. It exists in context with camps.
On one hand City Plaza exists as a solidarity project. We demonstrate that there are creative ways to alternatively house refugees without them being subject to the inhumane conditions of the camps. We show that amazing things are possible when refugees are integrated and live in a collective way. We say and show that refugees should live among and not apart. We say ‘give people a chance!’, to live as humans.
And the other side to City Plaza’s ‘identity’ that we work to communicate effectively is that it will always exist as a criticism. A criticism of the EU policies and of the government’s treatment of migration issues in general. We criticise the camps. We challenge the authorities. We demonstrate that there are different ways of treating refugees.
Why is it important that City Plaza stays open?
City plaza is an example. It is not a solution, but an example that it is possible for an alternative to camps and detention centres to exist. As long as City Plaza exists this idea is alive and active.
We resist the oppressive policies that dehumanise refugees. We resist in many ways, and above all creatively.
Do you think that the media presents a true image of the reality of the refugee crisis?
No. The media is a very powerful tool in the hands of anyone – any reality can be created, ignored, hidden, exaggerated.
It doesn’t mean that I think that all journalists wish to distort reality and that there is always an ulterior motive behind every article published. But, the media plays a big role in the policy-making process.
There are often hidden motives and agendas for misrepresenting the truth. The good thing though is that there are a lot of alternatives available to the mainstream media.
Through the City Plaza online platforms our team works to intervene with the press. To push them to comment on the reality of the situations in the camps for example. For example when there was a lot of snow in the camps on the island of Lesbos, we published a lot of photos in order to press the mainstream media to react. We need them to share the undeniable truth of the seriousness of the situation in the camps with the world.
Photo posted on the City Plaza Twitter page in solidarity with refugees in Elliniko camp during a hunger strike (05/02/17)
One of your other roles here is to organise and welcome international volunteers. How do these people who work in solidarity with this project help to raise the voice of City Plaza?
I’m not exaggerating when I say that thousands of people have passed through City Plaza since we opened. Hundreds have spent weeks living and working and participating with the project. It’s really amazing how many people support us on the ground.
One of the reasons City Plaza is so important is that it functions as an information point. People who come to volunteer here naturally take on a role as a representative of the project in their home countries. They send and share information and help to spread awareness of the situation and the importance of the City Plaza existing.
The title we decided to give this space (Refugee Accommodation and Solidarity Space City Plaza) reflects that here everyone is welcome. We have really created a common space here. City Plaza is a space of sharing, creativity, experience and ideas. Volunteers aren’t just ‘helping hands’ when they’re here, a big part of their role is to share information and ideas.
International volunteers at City Plaza
3 words to describe City Plaza:
Self-organisation, experience, smiles
Is there any moment which for you shows how solidarity with City Plaza works?
It can be really emotional to see first hand those who give something even when they have nothing. One moment that will always stay with me is when I went to the post office to collect a parcel which had been sent here. They handed me a really small package. It was so carefully wrapped. Inside were 2 pairs of socks for children sent from Spain.
To me this package symbolises how City Plaza works and is able to run. The fact that a person from far away is able to connect and wants to give something, however small, that they have – this supports the whole philosophy. Solidarity means us all supporting each other to have better lives, in whichever way we can.
No matter the colour of the skin or the language we speak, people all suffer, we all have the same basic needs, we are all human.
Why is it important for people around the world to be in solidarity with refugees in Greece and with the City Plaza project?
I think it’s very easy for any of us to say ‘it’s not my business, I don’t care, I’m OK’. It’s especially easy to think this way from a distance. But if I can say one thing, it’s how important it is for us to see ourselves in the faces, in the eyes, of those in need.
Once you feel this connection you really understand that we are all human. We all feel pain, we all suffer. We all can find hope. This is the moment when you can accept the reality you can really help and support others through solidarity. Once this connection is made, I believe it’s impossible for anyone to stay silent.
It’s not a question of philanthropy or sympathy, no. It has to be a question of solidarity. We have to do what we can to help for one reason: because we believe injustice must be corrected. The thing that will always connect us, refugees or not, is the fact that we’re all human, we all suffer and we can all feel hope and love.
However small or big your donation, every little will help. Everyone at City Plaza thanks you for your kindness and support in helping us to continue to live and work together in our home, to continue to live here in peace, togetherness and solidarity.
Donate here: http://www.youcaring.com/keepcityplazaopen