Imagine a place you could go to when you’ve lost everything. Your job. Your home. Your dignity. Yourself. Where your new neighbours would take care of you, find you a place to stay and offer you something to eat. A place to bake and cook together. A place to talk and listen, no matter your background, colour, beliefs or gender.

THE REFUGE is a cross-media, interactive project that documents life in the Prosfygika neighbourhood in Athens, Greece. Text, photographs and video interact to tell the stories of people who have made it their makeshift home.

Immigrants, refugees, political activists, workers, unemployed, elderly, homeless, families, drug addicts and ex-prisoners have become neighbours in the Prosfygika housing complex, comprising 8 buildings with 228 apartments. Some have papers, many are undocumented while others are in transit to Western Europe.

Built in the 1930s to provide housing to Greek refugees from Turkey after World War I, the Prosfygika is also cultural heritage, embodying a fine example of listed Bauhaus architecture and a model of modern urban living. A timeworn “village” ironically squeezed between symbols of state power – the monumental modernist buildings of the police headquarters and the high court.

The Prosfygika has a turbulent history that defies time, space and the established order. After its few remaining residents opposed official plans to tear down the complex and change its use, the state turned its back on the neighbourhood for almost 20 years, condemning it to a slow death. This prime piece of real estate became an eyesore for Athenians.

Yet, when in early 2010 the financial and refugee crises erupted in Greece, the derelict, almost deserted buildings were transformed into a living hub for more than 500 people from 30 different nationalities who would otherwise be on the streets. The Prosfygika has become the largest residential squat in Europe.

The newcomers’ need for solidarity gave birth to the idea of a community, based on a new social contract where everyone is welcome and no one is alone. Where everyone has the right to food, water, electricity and housing. Where everyone has a voice and can be different. A community that dares to experiment with direct democracy.

THE REFUGE looks at this diverse group of people who, consciously or unconsciously, voluntarily or out of necessity, has come together, regardless of their political beliefs, nationality or religious background, to create a self-managed community where the only requirement is participation. A political platform in which dialogue is privileged and grassroots integration is valued.

It sounds like heaven.

It looks like hell.

Worse seems impossible.

Better sounds like utopia.

But this place is real.

CREDITS

CREATED BY NIKOS PILOS & NATASHA BLATSIOU

  • editor-in-chief & writer: Natasha Blatsiou
  • photographer: Nikos Pilos
  • creative & design director: Costas Aggeletakis
  • web developer: Giorgos Sarigiannidis
  • consulting editor: Bas Vroege (Paradox)
  • consulting director: Thodoris Armaos
  • directors of photography: Ioanna Tsoucala,
    Nelson Eskioglou, Nikos Pilos
  • cameramen: Konstantinos Koukoulis, Nikos Ziogas
  • sound engineer: Xenofontas Kontopoulos
  • photo editor & instagram: Teresa Karavida
  • digital retoucher: Asimina Mitrothanasi
  • English editor: Damian Mac Con Uladh