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.