The “Immigrant Problem” in Greece

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 “Most of the Athenians I know won’t even look at these people. They just ignore them until they go away or, if they don’t go away, yell at them, so I feel like such a caring individual because I give them a euro to go away. But what if I could give these boys (because they really are just one step beyond being children) something of value? What if I could send them home to their families?”—Matt Barrett

Nothing At All to Write Home About 

By Matt Barrett

African immigrants peddling luggage in Athens.
African immigrants peddling luggage in Athens.


CARRBORO North Carolina & KEA Greece—(Weekly Hubris)—1 July 2022—Two nights ago, when I returned to our Kypseli apartment from the Allotino Jazz Bar, one of our African neighbors was standing in front of the building with a large empty plastic jerry-can. 

I know that the water company has shut off their water because they owe 800 euros which, for them, is impossible to pay. Andrea’s father had been letting them fill up buckets from our tap while we were away, and we have been filling them since our return. 

They are from Gambia and speak English a little bit, so I asked him whether he was waiting for a water truck. He told me he was though I don’t know if he was joking or not. Maybe the street cleaning guys have been giving them water from their truck. I told him to come upstairs and fill his can from our kitchen sink. While we were waiting for it to fill, I asked him some questions. There are four of them in the apartment now but there have been as many as eight and it is just a one-bedroom owned by some old woman on Crete who probably does not even notice if the rent is paid or not. 

None of them has a job and there is no way to make any money in Athens with the economic crisis since it was not easy to make money for them even before the crisis. Pandelis Melissinos had just given me 100 euros at dinner to give to Delapizza for the postcards he had sold in his shop, so I gave my Gambian neighbor 50.

“Don’t spend this on ganga,” I told him.

“No. No ganga. No alcohol,” he replied.

Athenian passersby pass by without a glance.
Athenian passersby pass by without a glance. 

Then, one of his roommates came out (sorry I don’t know their names but it is kind of a revolving door situation in our next door apartment) and he had two more buckets which we filled and then some empty water bottles, too. He wanted to go to Sweden but had not applied and had no money and probably was not even sure where Sweden was exactly.

“Do you like Athens?” I asked them.

“No! Too hot. No work. No money. It is terrible here for us.”

They missed Gambia and they wanted to go home but now had only my 50 euros between them instead of the 400 euros it would cost each of them to fly to Gambia. 

It got me thinking about the quality of my generosity. Here I was giving them water and a few euros which would enable them to eat for another few days, even more if they spent it wisely. At the tavernas and cafes, I always have a lot of change to give to Toohin and the other Bangladeshi guys who sell the flowers. I don’t even want the flowers. I would rather just give them the money. 

Most of the Athenians I know won’t even look at these people. They just ignore them until they go away or, if they don’t go away, yell at them, so I feel like such a caring individual because I give them a euro to go away. But what if I could give these boys (because they really are one step beyond being children) something of value? What if I could send them home to their families?

Gambians’ version of “pop-up” knock-off purse shops in downtown Athens.
Gambians’ version of “pop-up” knock-off purse shops in downtown Athens.

So, I looked up Gambia on Wikipedia and, as African countries go, it does not seem like such a bad place. I am sure that if my neighbors had known what Athens was going to be like they would never have left home. They even said that Athens was a much worse place than Gambia! OK. I believe it. Duncan, the Kenyan guy who fixes my computer at home says Durham, North Carolina is a much more dangerous place than Nairobi.

How hard would it be to send these guys home so they don’t starve to death or die of thirst in a shitty apartment in Kypseli where the only neighbors who even talk to them are the Americans (unless you count Maria, the Albanian woman who screams at them because they take water from her outdoor tap)? I know Fantasy Travel can find the cheapest tickets and probably won’t even ask for a commission. I would probably need an attorney, one with good values and no ulterior motives like Arsinoi Lainioti, who was born the States and has taken over Dorian’s duties helping immigrants and other people with international problems. She can make sure they have the papers they need to leave Greece and be allowed back into their own country so I am not wasting money on tickets that are not being used. Knowing someone in the municipal government might be useful, too.

Athenians complain about the immigrant problem but what do they do about it besides complain and get mad because the government is not doing anything? If every person who had a few hundred euros to spare adopted an immigrant who only wanted to go home and bought him a ticket and helped make sure he was able to use it, much of the problem would be solved. 

There are many immigrants who don’t want to leave and among them there are those who can and will play a positive role in Athenian society. Look at all the Africans and Albanians who have their own businesses now or have steady jobs and have bought apartments and their children speak Greek and play with the Greek children. Walk up and down Fokionos Negri on a warm summer night and you will see hundreds of them. Go look in the schoolyards and see the African children among the Greeks, Albanians, Russians, and Poles. 

But those immigrants who are stranded in Greece should be helped, not just by giving them a few euros while we sit with our friends eating a meal that will cost us what they can’t earn in a month. Any Greek or foreigner in Greece who is worried about the immigrant problem should ask himself whether he wants to be part of the solution; then find someone who wants nothing more than to go home, and help him get there.

On the streets, with no way home.
On the streets, with no way home.

As the Gambian was leaving my apartment with his water and the peach Andrea had bought for our breakfast, he turned around and said, “God Bless You.” And no matter what you believe, God has blessed me and probably you too because any of us could have been born Gambians or Nigerians or Bangladeshis and be in this situation, in a faraway land, with no money, no food, and forced to ask for water from your neighbors, with no way of returning home and no prospects for a better life. Who knows? Maybe in a few years you will be in this situation. But since you aren’t, wouldn’t you like to help someone who is? It can’t be that difficult. Even in Greece.

After an unspectacular career as a gifted songwriter (and a less than gifted guitar player), Matt Barrett began his Greece Travel Guide website in 1996, one of the first travel sites on the internet and a blog before the word was invented. In the years since, he has written hundreds of articles about Greece and his websites have helped millions of people visit (and even move there). Matt’s works have been published in . . . well, actually, this is the first time any of his stories and articles has been published anywhere except on his website (not including the many articles that have somehow found their way onto Chinese travel websites.) His E-book Spearfishing In Skatohori has sold dozens of copies on Amazon. Matt has never won any awards or, if he has, nobody has told him about them. He divides his time among his home in Carrboro, North Carolina, his house on the Greek Island of Kea, his daughter’s apartment in Kypseli, Athens, his sister-in-law’s house on Lesvos, Greece, and a few other places best left unmentioned. Matt has two more unpublished books: In Search Of Sardeles Pastes and I Married a Lesbian. He lives with his wife and four cats, none of whom particularly likes him. (The wife does, sometimes). The best place to find Matt is on his website at (or at Yannis Kalofagadon Taverna on Kea).

One Comment


    Matt you have a heart as big as the sky…..
    Would you mind if I posted your piece on my facebook?
    Di Drymoussis