Syria-born Greek mayor takes charge of ‘lucky’ refugees

Mayor Nampil Morant, who has lived in the area for 25 years, is the first naturalized Greek of Syrian origin elected to office

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On a long beach framed by a golden Ionian Sea sunset, a group of Syrian boys shout for joy as they race across the sand, the horrors of war and exile they have witnessed briefly forgotten.

As the sun finally sets, children make a beeline for a nearby square and mothers with prams step out for an evening stroll.

The latest residents of a previously abandoned summer resort - extensively looted as a result of the Greek economic crisis - these Syrians consider themselves among the “lucky” ones.

“I spent two weeks in a tent, in the water at Idomeni,” said Wis Najjar, referring to the slum-like camp on the Greek-Macedonian border where about 10,000 people remain stranded since the closure of the migrant route through the Balkans in February.

“Here it’s very nice. The locals help us, even though they are in need themselves,” the 53-year-old technician from Aleppo added.

The LM Village resort, partly owned by the local municipality of Kyllini, some 280 kilometers (170 miles) west of Athens, is under the care of Mayor Nampil Morant, a pathologist from Homs.

Morant, who has lived in the area for 25 years, is the first naturalized Greek of Syrian origin elected to office.

“It was the least I could do for Syrian refugees,” said Morant, 53, who was elected mayor in 2014 after serving three terms on the municipal council.

“Every day we saw the poor living conditions (in the makeshift camps), the rain, mud and the cold. I could not remain impartial, not when there is a facility that has been closed for the past six years and could offer temporary shelter,” he told AFP.

For now, each of the resort’s small apartments houses two families with children, the youngest a baby girl born in the area’s general hospital a few days ago.

We were ‘lucky’

“They said, this is another camp and if you want to go, you can choose this camp. (We were) lucky,” says Tarek Al-Felo, a grizzled 42-year-old from Damascus, who was approached by Greek officials at the port of Piraeus last month after spending two weeks there.

Like many here, he has seen the squalor of makeshift camps at Piraeus and Idomeni.

“It’s better than other camps. And people here are good people. The mayor comes here every day and asks about people here,” said Felo, who used to run a restaurant in Damascus.

Felo’s wife and children now share an apartment with another Syrian family from Idlib who they met on the road in Turkey.

He says it took his family four months to reach Greece, including two months just to get out of Syria, travelling by night to avoid extremist patrols.

Of the 341 people at LM Village, 210 are children, over half of them babies and toddlers. There are 57 women, including a handful who are pregnant.

The resort has an outdoor basketball court, a large playground and a square, and there are now plans for a library, said camp supervisor Yiorgos Angelopoulos.

“This is an open hospitality center and we intend to allocate two municipal buses to take them into town,” said Angelopoulos, who is the Syrians’ main contact with the outside world.

As he makes his rounds around the resort, refugees come out of their homes to make requests for supplies such as washing powder, and small children run to hug him.

Local doctors visit three times a week and Red Cross staff regularly arrive with donations.

“At first there were some negative reactions (locally) but they were overcome when it became apparent that these people are peaceful... and especially when they saw the children,” Angelopoulos added.

Germany ‘no paradise’

Angelopoulos is now taking stock of the refugees’ former professions in order to find work for them locally.

Adeb Ferzat, a 40-year-old pharmacist, wants to go to Germany where his 15-year-old son is enrolled in the academy at football giants Bayern Munich.

“We have a lawyer in Germany helping to make the arrangements,” he said through Najjar, the camp’s only Greek speaker having lived in Greece for four years.

Ferzat acknowledged that running a pharmacy would not be possible until he learns the language but he stressed: “I also know how to make clothes.”

Felo, who in March submitted his family’s request for relocation to another EU country, however, is not pinning his hopes on Germany.

“Germany may be the dream of paradise of all refugees, but to me it’s not. I want a safe place, Germany is not a paradise,” he said.

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