Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Support NHPR's local journalism that brings clarity, context, and community!

As Borders Close, Greece Struggles To Shelter Migrants Stuck There


The ongoing migration crisis has deeply divided the European Union. Some countries say too many are coming to the EU, others don't want to take asylum-seekers at all. And as borders close, thousands of migrants are getting stuck in Greece, which doesn't have the resources to shelter them. Joanna Kakissis reports from Athens.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Hundreds of families from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria are camping out in two aging passenger terminals in Piraeus, the port city next to Athens. Babies sleep on donated blankets while their parents line up for food. Qairi Soumoki brings spaghetti to his wife and two children, ages 1 and 3. They're Yazidi, a religious minority whose members have been slaughtered by Islamic State in Iraq.

QAIRI SOUMOKI: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: Soumoki says ISIS executes Yazidi men, rapes women and sells children into slavery. In Europe, he hopes to find peace. I ask him if he wants to stay in Greece.

SOUMOKI: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: "No," he says, "I want to go to Germany." Germany is the dream destination for most migrants here. Greece is just the first stop in the European Union. For the last year, migrants have traveled from Greece through the Balkans in Austria to reach Germany. But now Austria has restricted the flow of asylum-seekers, and Balkan countries have followed suit. Many migrants, including those from Afghanistan, are now banned from crossing into the Balkans from Greece. Suma Ahmadi is 16 and from Afghanistan's Baghlan province. She says the Taliban killed her father for being Hazara, a persecuted Shia minority.

SUMA AHMADI: I cannot live in the Afghanistan. Very danger.

KAKISSIS: She cries because the route to Germany is now closed.

AHMADI: I want to please, please, please open the door. I very need is that good life.

KAKISSIS: Ahmad Zia used to run a jewelry shop in Kandahar. He's angry that Germany says parts of Afghanistan are safe.

AHMAD ZIA: Safe? Who said safe? All these bomb blasting, target killing, kidnapping - we faced all this situation. If was safe, I was not here.

KAKISSIS: He's with his wife, sons, brothers and mother. They sold everything to pay $7,000 to smugglers to make this journey.

ZIA: This is my last point, last chance. I don't have behind of me anything. Finished.

KAKISSIS: As Zia weighs his options, 39-year-old Eleftheria Sklydaki hands out milk to moms with infants. She says EU leaders don't want to deal with migrants anymore and so they want to ring-fence them in Greece and forget about them.

ELEFTHERIA SKLYDAKI: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: "These are human beings," she says. "Europeans could be in their shoes tomorrow, and if no one helped, they would ask why." For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.
Related Content

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.