Refugee Village for Freedom

Over 70 thousand refugees were stranded in Greece after the EU borders were closed in early 2016, waiting for their destiny to be determined by a painful and failing system. Some will be re-located to countries that its government does not support or want refugees, some will be denied their basic human rights and deported back to their abusive government, some will be united with their families, and some will be forced to stay in Greece permanently despites that their families are not in Greece but in other countries in Europe. While waiting for all this to happen, which might take 18 months to 2 years, many refugees are suffering every day the lack of the basic human rights of shelter, foods, clothing, education, and medicine because there isn’t enough funding and support coming from the EU or the big NGOs. This created a huge burden on the Greek government as well as the Greek people, and those refugees are left without any kind of support. SURF teamed with the Syrian Solidarity House, and collaborated with independent groups and volunteers as well as the local Greek communities to support these abandoned refugees, provided financial aids to establish temporarily shelters, and supplied foods and clothing to over 400 refugees and over 180 children.

Many refugees decided to stay in Greece, or were forced to stay in Greece by the EU, and this called for more permanent resilient living solutions for these refugees. Again, SURF stepped forward and teamed up with the Syrian Solidarity House and created the “Refugees Village for Freedom” as a permanent living solution for the refugees and the families who live in Greece. The project’s goal is to create a self-sustaining ECO village where refugees can live, work, and integrate in the Greek communities. The project includes: Agriculture land, dairy farm, houses, pharmacy, and a clinic which will support the refugees and the local Greek communities.

The project took off last November by securing a land of 257 acres (half is donated and the other half is rented) in the town of Kaparelli, a couple of hours outside Athens. The land is being planted with almond trees, wheat, chickpeas, okra, and vegetables. Also, a big portion of the land will be dedicated to dairy farming once funding is available. The land currently has 2 houses, and more will be built over time to host more families. The Refugees’ skilled labor will be utilized to remodel the town’s houses and restoring them to their original condition for a fee to support the refugees who will be settling in the village. You can follow the work in progress of this project on the following link on Face Book: https://www.facebook.com/Refugee-Village-For-Freedom-1877051302553073/

This project still needs financial support to achieve its goal, some of the immediate needs are:

1- Cows and sheep to generate milk and other dairy products

2- Small Tools to help in the planting process

3- Small tools to help building the houses

4- Machines for the bakery as everything is done by hand right now

5- Funds to establish the clinic and the pharmacy

SURF is honored to work side by side with the Syrian Solidarity House team, the independent volunteers, and the Greek communities to support the vulnerable refugees, and create this noble project. Your generous donations will support hundreds of refugees and provide them with decent and basic living means, as well as a sustainable infrastructure so children can live and grow in a humane environment.

Your SURF team

Stand Up

SURF would like to acknowledge our disappointment and heartbreak at the events that unfolded today. The President signed an executive order to suspend the State Department Refugee Assistance Program and visa entry from Syria and 6 other countries. Refugees are one of the most demonized groups in the US and the world, and we believe this is devastating to the support these men, women, and children deserve and need. SURF is not demotivated by this order. We will continue our work to support refugees. We will stand up for the rights of refugees everywhere. We will do our best to counter the spread of fear and false statements. Now, more than ever, refugees require support. Research local refugee agencies, contact your local IRC office, or reach out to SURF to donate and volunteer your time.

-Your SURF family

Who is Kastro?

Kastro is a human rights activist who has dedicated years of his life supporting the local immigrant community. Born and raised in the beautiful coastal town of Tartous, Syria, Kastro migrated to Greece nearly 30 years ago. It was there that he began fighting for fair wages, free schools, and social welfare for immigrants. In addition to being an human right activist, he is a painter and interior designer. His art can be found in many local restaurants and cafés, as well as on the covers of psycology books used by Panteion and Zografos universities. Kastro’s activities and deep involvement in local affairs has gained him recognition as a community leader in by the locals and government officials alike in Athens.

During the recent economic challenges, Kastro supported the Athens community through various projects and initiatives. For example, he renovated and restructured small, struggling businesses, helping them to achieve a new level of success. Additionally, he assisted young, unemployed locals in creating collective businesses which invested a percentage of their profits back into the community.

Kastro’s compassion and dedication to humanitarianism is truly astonishing. The sheer amount of time and effort he dedicates to his causes seem beyond the capacity of a normal human being. And yet his countless hours of leadership and project management are always delivered with a warm smile. Quite simply, his kindness, sympathy, and open heart have changed the lives of numerous people in Athens. Wherever he goes, he is greeted warmly by the locals. He is their mentor, friend, hero, and a main line of support. His stamina and ability to multitask is astonishing – he seamlessly answers multiple phone calls, responds to countless questions, listens to a seemingly endless list of complaints, and solves a variety of problems without missing a beat. His tireless efforts sometimes cause him to go days without sleep.

Kastro’s attention to everyone who approaches him is sincere, but especially when approached by children. He often drops everything, no matter how important, to answer each child’s request with a sweet and fatherly smile. One night I asked Kastro about his work with children; his response was “a child’s request or question must be answered in a timely fashion, and with honesty and kindness. Children observe and understand everything, and ignoring their questions or not telling them the truth will have a negative impact on their childhood as well as adulthood.”

Kastro’s role supporting the refugee crisis:

After the Syrian war broke out in early 2011 and the resulting flood of refugees started their long journey crossing the Turkish water to Greece, Kastro moved his community operations to the island of Lesvos, a main entry point for refugees seeking asylum. The island received a few thousand refugees every day — mostly from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Those who were officially registered as refugees seeking asylum could leave the island and head towards their final destination in Europe. The registration process often took longer than expected, however, and many refugees did not have the financial support to continue their journey. For example there were more than 10,000 refugees stranded on the island’s capital of Mitilini, where both shelter and food were not always available. During this time, Kastro took over an abandoned government building to shelter over 500 refugees. Along with a team of volunteers, he utilized local resources to clean up the building, install showers and a kitchen, and provide daily meals for hundreds of refugees. It was here that his first refugee squat was established.

But in typical Kastro fashion, that was not his only humanitarian project during this time period. In addition to setting up the refugee shelter, he also established the Syrian Solidarity House in Mitilini. He reserved this space to care for the most vulnerable refugees: the elderly, families, and people with special medical needs.

In early 2016, over 70,000 refugees were stranded in Greece after the EU borders were closed in accordance with the new EU agreement. Reacting to this crisis, Kastro moved back to Athens where he occupied an abandoned school to further support the people as they waited to process their asylum applications. Today, his school hosts over 400 refugees and over 180 children. Vulnerable refugees are hosted in private community places or apartments, with the rent paid by private donors. The school’s classrooms were converted to shelters, so that each room could be shared by multiple families. He improved the sewage system, installed bathrooms and showers, and established a community kitchen which provides two hot meals a day. Locals continue to support his squats and cook meals on the weekends. The rest of the meals are prepared by the refugees themselves. As part of this project, a supply warehouse was established to provide the basics, such as clothing, cleaning supplies, snacks, and bread. The school has a laundry room, and a small clinic with 24/7 access to a local volunteer nurse. Additionally, other volunteer nurses and doctors visit the school twice a week. Kastro developed a roof top green house for fresh vegetables, and a chicken coup for fresh eggs. Foods, clothing, medicine, and other supplies are funded through local community members and private donors. There is also a floor dedicated to hosting refugees from Afghanistan. All refugees, regardless of where they are from, are treated equally and have access to whatever resources are available. There is no support from the Greek government or NGOs, and therefore, resources are not always plentiful.

After the success of these first projects, Kastro established five other squats that collectively host and have serves thousands of refugees. All of these squats have a similar structure and setup, and they are all managed by their own residents. Due to the lack of funding, not all squats have adequate kitchens, clinic, or food. The squats are in constant need of resources such as bread, milk, and other basic necessities.

We are honored to know this selfless and noble man, and to have worked side by side with him. We have witnessed the impact of his work on everyone around him. SURF has been supporting Kastro since early 2016. Your generous donations will support hundreds of refugees and provide them with food, supplies, and infrastructure. Please visit our donation page to find out how you can help.

Your Donations at Work

With your generous donations, SURF was able to pay for bread, milk, rice, fruits, and other food items. These items will feed hundreds of refugees and their children. These people have had little or no bread or milk in the past week, and they are very grateful and appreciative to receive such a generous donation. They ask me to send special thank you, hugs and kisses to every donor and person participated in this noble mission.

Please continue your support of the SURF mission, you are all making a huge difference in the refugees’ life, their struggle is less painful because of you.

Visit our donation page today to find out how you can support SURF.

Community Love

Hundreds of refugees’ children have not gone to school for a very long time. The war in Syria made it unsafe for them to attend school. Furthermore, they have been in transition seeking a safe place to call home for many years.

Here in Greece (and in many other countries that took the refugees in), the local community has been extremely supportive of the refugees crisis. They opened their own homes to shelter vulnerable refugees. They supported the use of abandoned schools and buildings to host hundreds of other refugees. They opened their classrooms and enrolled dozens of children in education programs including local language and several international languages.

The locals have formed committees who meet with the refugees leadership team on a weekly basis. They discuss the refugees’ needs, and explore all support options available. They advocate and coordinate with the local schools to find the right fit for the Syrian children, and they collect donated food/clothing from the local residents and bring them to the shelters.

Today, we took a few new families with their children to register for a school close to the squat. The principal and the teachers were very excited to meet the children and gave them hugs, kisses, and gave them apples and chocolate.

In the afternoon, generous volunteers bought a cotton candy machine. We gathered the children who were very excited to watch the process and receive the colorful and fuzzy webs of sugar as they form their hollow shape. Everyone was jumping of joy and being so high on sugar.

Thank you for your continuous support to the refugees and the SURF mission.

-Youssef

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New Project, Occupation Building

Youssef landed in Greece, a handful of days ago, and immediately met with Kastro. He is assisting him with providing shelter and education for displaced people affected by the refugee crisis, and using SURF dollars to financially support Kastro’s latest project, “Occupation building”.

“Occupation building” is the latest squat project directed by Kastro. After a racist group burned down one of the refugees’ dwelling units, he found another abandoned building, and moved the displaced refugees to a six story high business building just a few miles from the center of Athens. The abandonment was the result of the 2008 financial crisis. Youssef flew to Greece to provide Kastro with support: financially, physically and emotionally. The building is not outfitted with enough basic amenities. The former offices are being converted to sleeping rooms, the open floors are being partitioned into smaller rooms, and they are installing a kitchen, bathrooms, and showers.

With your generous donations, SURF was able to buy water heaters and other building material so the people can have a humane living space. All labor/work is fulfilled by the refugee people. SURF is proud to be a part of a beautiful collaboration with this hard working community.

There are thousands of refugees stuck in Greece waiting for their asylum’s paper work to be processed. This process currently takes 6 to 18 months. There are more people coming every day, creating more demand to provide a humane environment.

Please continue your support of the SURF mission. You are all making a huge difference in people’s lives, and their struggle is less painful because of you.

Please visit our donation page to find out how you can support our latest project with Kastro.

SURF update from Athens-Greece

Youssef arrived in Greece a few days ago. His mission is to distribute SURF DONATIONS, and work with Kastro on a new project in Athens.

After missing my connecting flight due to bad weather, I was stranded in Salt Lake City for almost a day, which made my long trip to Athens even longer. I finally arrived to Athens early in the morning, two days after leaving the Bay Area. After a quick shower, I headed to the first of the six refugees squats I am planning to visit during my visit to Athens.

This is an abandoned school that was converted into a refugee shelter by Kastro, a Syrian/Greek artist and activist whom I will dedicate an entire post to share his long and noble work with the refugee crisis.

The school is hosting over 400 refugees including over 180 children. Vulnerable refugees (pregnant women, unaccompanied minors, elderly and people with medical needs) are hosted in private community/local places. The school’s classrooms were transformed to shelters, and each room is shared by several families. The sewage system was cleaned up, bathrooms and showers were installed and a community kitchen was established providing two hot meals to the refugees on a daily basis. Also, a clothing and supplies warehouse was established to supply the daily needs of clothing, cleaning supplies, snacks, bread, etc. to the refugees. The school also has a laundry room and a small clinic room with access to a local volunteer nurse 24/7. Other volunteered nurses and doctors visit the school twice a week. Kastro started a new project to install a green house on the roof as well as a chicken coup to provide fresh eggs and vegetables to the refugees on a daily basis.
Foods, clothing, medicine, and other supplies are funded through local community members and private donors. There is no support of any kinds from the Greek government or any NGOs. Therefore, foods and supplies are not always available to the refugees.

Kastro established 5 other squats hosting and surging hundreds of refugees. These squats have similar structures and setup. They are all managed by their own residents, the refugees. However, due to the lack of funding, not all squats have kitchens, clinic, or a food warehouse. These squats are in constant need of daily supplies of bread and other foods items. Your generous donations will support hundreds of refugees and provide them with bread, milk, rice and other foods and supplies for the days to come. Please visit our donation page to find out how you can help.

-Youssef