Thoughts and thanks from the distance: Refugees who lived in PIKPA, talk about the importance of an open welcoming space

In early March 2015, the mayor of Lesvos Spiros Galinos called on the ‘Village of all together’ to move out all the refugees accommodated in PIKPA. He wanted to renovate PIKPA for a tennis tournament that would take place in May. He seriously proposed the prison of Moria as an alternative that could be turned into an open centre. This is where the refugees could live!

The ‘Village of all together’ responded by saying that a prison would not be an alternative option, even if the fences were to be removed. They demand to be offered a different place, otherwise they would be forced to remain in PIKPA.

Us from w2eu and as part of the ‘Village of all together’ outside of Mytilene want to contribute to the discussion by offering a little story from PIKPA as well as comments from people who made PIKPA their home for some time.

PIKPA was an empty and run-down former holiday camp for children, located near the airport of Mytilene. Since November 2012, in accordance with the mayor at the time, it could be used by the group ‘Village of all together’. The story of this unique and self-organised place of solidarity that welcomes newly arrived refugees, was not only known to the locals of Lesvos but also internationally.

It began in the winter of 2012 when refugees arrived from Turkey in bad weather conditions on a small boat and had to sleep under trees, waiting for the police to arrest them for registration. Fascists threw stones at a pregnant woman who was sleeping outside.

The ‘Village of all together’ opened PIKPA and an unbelievable number of people in solidarity made sure that food was offered to all every day.

It started off as a small place that was used as a place of arrival before the arrest and registration would take place. Coastguards and the police did not support this place which proved that arriving people would not abscond or be dangerous but were visibly looking for protection. PIKPA transformed several times, especially after October 2013 when the prison of Moria opened, funded with EU money. PIKPA was empty for a short while but then people who were released from Moria began to use PIKPA again. Later, when the asylum system collapsed in Athens, people came to Mytilene to claim asylum and stayed in PIKPA for a few weeks.

In summer 2014 when more and more arrived from Turkey and Moria became overcrowded, even the coastguard began to move refugees to PIKPA in order to ‘spare’ the tourists on cruise boats the sight of waiting refugees in the burning sun at the harbour.

The ‘Village of all together’, with its few members, was able to deal even with this situation that grew more acute, with about 600 refugees staying in one day at a place that has merely 80 beds.

It was in September 2014 that the new conservative mayor took office. He requested from the coastguard to cease bringing newly arrived people to PIKPA and, instead, move them straight to the prison near Moria. Nonetheless, all those who have already claimed asylum and thus left Moria, as well as those who are ill, do not have the money to continue their journey, are waiting for family reunification or are searching for their missing relatives, remain in PIKPA. In addition, all those who are released on Fridays stay the night in PIKPA since no boats are leaving on that day.

At the moment there are 20 long-term guests at PIKPA. The children go to school and the Village of all together is able to organise, through self-organised donations, everyday life.

The new Syriza government has announced to close down all prisons for refugees and to have instead open centres. Moria is still open.

We asked people, who spent a long time in PIKPA, some of them have now succeeded to escape Greece and are recognised as refugees in other European countries, to tell us why PIKPA was important to them:

Ablulahi und Laila

One day in April 2013, around midnight, a boat capsized and everybody fell into the water, when the coastguard tried to stop them. It was Abdulahi, the only one who knew how to swim, who rescued all the people by bringing them to the boat of the coastguard. Laila was rescued even twice as she was caught by another wave and was washed away, about to drown. The coastguard shone light and handed out life buoys so that he could find and rescue the people.

Once he had rescued all and was climbing to the boat of the coastguards with Laila, someone turned on the engine and injured Abdulahi’s leg severely by the boat’s propeller. Laila was also injured but fortunately less badly.

At the hospital of Mytilene Abdulahi was lucky to see a doctor who operated on him and saved his leg. It was, however, also clear that he would not be allowed to get up and move for several months. Laila decided to stay with her rescuer to help him in his everyday life. They both remained in PIKPA and when physiotherapy was recommended, the Village of all together organised daily transfers to the city for Abdulahi.

4 months later they could, with the hobbling Abdulahi, go to Athens and try to continue their journey. There were no legal charges against the coastguard and no compensation was given.

Their journeys seemed to part there. But in the end they managed to arrive in the same country. They now have a child together and their tragic story seems to have found a happy end.

Abulahi says:

Pikpa is the place I can never forget, specially “the village of together”. Without Pikpa I couldn’t walk with my leg right now.
Pikpa is where I got saved, cured, fed and met such good people. What happened to me in the midnight of the second of April, I remember it full, but I remember all the great people who showed me the great heart they have.
It is in Pikpa where I stayed when I could not even manage to go to the toilet alone.
It is in Pikpa where many family who had children got a place to sleep and felt save.
I honestly cry when I remember Mitilini, where I almost lost my leg. But when I also remember the great “village of together” the doctors who cured me, physiotherapy, people who drive me, people just helping me. Pikpa is great and I dream one day I will came back. Please allow Pikpa to welcome people like me and others who absolutely can not stay in the harbour or elsewhere. Life is difficult.
Pikpa is great……..

Pashtu, Kandara, Sedara, Mariam and Omeira

We met Pashtu and her 4 children in front of the police office of Mytilene in summer 2013. They wanted to live right there on the pavement and wait until the father of the family who had been arrested and accused to be a trafficker, would be released. It was clear to them that he was not guilty. Back then they did not know that punishment could mean up to 75 years in prison.

With difficulty we were able to persuade them to stay one night in PIKPA to gather information and think about their situation again. When we arrived in PIKPA by car and they saw the other Afghan children who were playing under the trees, it was clear that she had made the right decision. Pashtu and her children stayed for more than a year.

The children were the first from the Village of all together who were able to go to school. Together we wrote down the story of their flight, also to make clear to the court that the father was not a ‘businessman’ but someone travelling with 4 children and his wife to create a better life for them.

The monitoring of the proceedings in court, the assigning of a lawyer, and the publicity created through the booklet with their story led to the release of the father. He lived with his family in PIKPA until they travelled on, all together. Now they are also in another European country, the children go to school and have already learned the new language, and are dreaming to return to Mytilene as soon as they have papers.

Pashtu says:

For 1 year and 2 months we were in PIKPA.
PIKPA was very great as people help one another there.
All those who came just wanted to help. They did not do that for money but because they believe that it is good to support others.
In Greece we felt like at home in Afghanistan due to the hospitality of the people. The children will never forget how Stella came with her car to collect them to go swimming, nearly every day.
We now are in Austria and sometimes we all want to return to Mytilene, it was that great. Later when we get papers we will all go back to visit them. As one says in Greece: MAKARI.


was the oldest Afghan woman in PIKPA who travelled alone.
She wanted, through family reunification, to go to her children in Germany but the bureaucracy and the horrible asylum process meant that she missed the birth of her grandchild and had to remain in PIKPA for more than a year.

In the meantime we had travelled several times to Germany and back and the running joke from Zivara was: “would you take me with you in our luggage? I am thin’. After Syriza came to power, suddenly a flight was booked for her.
She now is with her children in Hamburg .

Zivara says:

The people of the Village of all together helped me so much, to get medicine, to bring me to the doctor and to provide food for me, every day.
When I was ill they brought me straight to the doctor and got drops for my eyes. I want to return to meet all these people again. I want to say thanks and see them again.


arrived in Mytilene and was arrested in Moria, then went to Athens only to notice that it was impossible to gain access to the asylum office. He heard from friends that he would be luckier in Mytilene and thus came to PIKPA. He then realised that it did not work there as well and he had to travel back and forth between Athens and Mytilene several times due to the Greek bureaucracy.

Hamid is a young and active journalist from Herat who did not want to leave but was threatened due to his journalistic activities and was searching for protection in Europe.

He experienced PIKPA when 600 people were there and he was able to create understanding and calm amongst the other Afghans there. We thank him for that a lot. Today he is also in Germany and has mixed feelings when remembering his time in Greece. He will never forget the solidarity that he experienced.

Hamid says:

The elections went in the second round and then we knew we have some problem. I had to leave Afghanistan.
This was very hard for me because i dont want to leave my country. Because i had everything there, i was a lecturer at the university of Herat, i have got salary, i have everything: a house, a car a family a good job, i had a very good life. But finally i lost everything.

In Athens it was not possible to aply for asylum, the system does not work, that is why i came to Mitilini. Thanks to all fo you keeping Pikpa open, i could stay there and try to aply for asylum. It is not easy to run such a place, we saw it when 600 people were there. But it helps if people talk with one another and understand.


survived 18 hours in the sea without being able to swim. She fell into the water from the boat on which her small daughter Asma and her cousin travelled as well.
When the police brought Asma and the other survivors to PIKPA we all thought we would witness a tragic story.

Helicopters searched for Nasimgül without success for several hours. She was able, however, through her own strength to use a wave and be washed up on a beach in Mytilene. There she asked people she met at the beach for help.
Nobody believed that she was still alive. When she was in hospital her daughter had to identify her. It was a very touching encounter.

Nasimgül remained a few months in PIKPA until she regained her strength after this experience. They left in autumn and moved to another European country. We hope that she arrived safely.

Nasimgül says:

I should never forget how i arived alive here. As long as i live, i will remember.
And i am so lucky that i arived here in Pikpa, where i met the best people in the world, i will never forget you.

Now that i am strong again I will continue my journey.
I wish to finaly arive in a country where my daughter and me get asylum and Asma can go to school.


came to Mytilene in 2014 to search for his younger brother who had not been in touch after crossing the sea from Turkey.
He looked for him in the prisons of the island, without success.

Then the message came that told of someone who drowned which fit his description. Ghazem, who found accommodation in PIKPA and people who supported his search, had to give DNA evidence to receive the sad fact that his brother had drowned.

Ghazem remained in PIKPA for a long time to grieve and went daily to the cemetery and the grave of his brother. In August 2014, together with us, he added the name of his brother to the memorial and we collectively mourned. Afterwards he could finally leave the place his brother never reached, and went back to Paris where he lives.

Ghazem says:

Thanks that I could be here with you and for your great support when I lost my brother. I wanted to find him alive and it was very difficult to accept that he had died. Thanks you that you were there for me. Now I have to find the strength to tell our parents about it.
I want to return with the names of the dead that I have engraved on a marble plate, for the memorial. In Iran I used to work as a stonemason so that I can contribute in this way to your solidarity work.


arrived in PIKPA in September 2013. He stayed for two weeks waiting for his friends to be released. Finally he left by himself as his deportation order was going to expire after another two weeks and his friends were still in Moria detention.

He tried to leave Greece a few weeks later, but was caught and arrested. First detained in different police stations he finally applied for asylum and was transferred to Amygdaleza pre-removal centre. He stayed more than 9 months in detention until he got accepted as political refugee and released,

Abas says:

When I arrived in PIKPA in the first moment I thought this place is a camp of the government, but after a few hours I understood that it is a welcome place for homeless people. I met very nice people there. I felt that they were like my own people. They prepared for us whatever we expected and needed. They were friendly and respectful. Me and two of my friends had slept in the park in Mytilene for three days without anything and nobody had helped us. No one had asked if we needed anything. We were disappointed from Europe before we came to PIKPA as we passed very hard days. In PIKPA we could relax. We received clothes, food, a place to sleep, medical aid…. and honour.

PIKPA is a great place with great people. I never experienced another place like that and I also never heard something about such a place before. I say this from my heart. My best time during my clandestine journey were the days I spent in PIKPA.
I wish to see more PIKPAs. I hope PIKPA will never close.
I wish best luck and god bless all those good People trying to keep PIKPA running.

April 2015
collected by: w2eu – Welcome to Europe – Marily Stroux
translation: Maurice, Aristos

PIKPA should stay! greek