BBC: The Greek grandmothers

Eftratia Mavrapidi (left) Maritsa Mavrapidi (middle) Militsa Kamvisi (right)Image copyrightLEFTERIS PARTSALIS

When a Syrian mother arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos, drenched and struggling to feed her baby, three grandmothers, or yiayiades stepped in. Militsa Kamvisi, 83, gave the baby a bottle of milk while she and her friends sang a lullaby. The photo, taken by Lefteris Partsalis in October, immediately went viral and there was a flood of admiration for the “three grannies and a baby” on Twitter.

“Thank goodness,” said one tweet, “there are the grandmothers of Lesbos who are able to wash away our shame.”

The photo reflects the strength, courage and down-to-earth attitude Greeks associate with yiayiades, many of whom have lived through a world war, a civil war, a dictatorship and now a financial crisis. In today’s Greece it is often their pensions and positive approach that keep entire families going.

Grandma Militsa has said she does not think her response was anything extraordinary. As a child of a refugee herself she saw her act of kindness as a moral duty. Her mother fled Turkey with nothing in 1922 at the end of the Greco-Turkish War and also ended up on the shores of Lesbos dependent on its residents for help.

She is among three people nominated for the Nobel prize to represent the behaviour and attitude of Greece and volunteers towards the refugee crisis.

Last week Greek grandmothers were again the ones taking the lead handing out food to refugees in Athens. One was 92 years old. Her daughter said it was she who had made them pack a car full of sandwiches and cake and go to Victoria Square.

For the full article click HERE


Without Swift Debt Relief for Greece, The Last Five Years Will be the Prelude to More Chaos


If my childhood could have a soundtrack it would be my Dad’s conflicted thoughts and inner debates about whether to go back to Greece. He left there for the UK the year I was born. Twice he packed us up ready to go back..

Once in a Volkswagen camper van and we even stayed for a year. But, ultimately he always came to the conclusion that life in the UK would be better.

Probably the most tragic thing he’s ever said to me is that “Greece is a great country, but only for holidays.” I can see why he would say that…

To read the rest of my HUFFPOST article click HERE.

#ThisIsACoup A documentary

Our new documentary series #ThisIsACoup is now online on The Intercept’s Field of Vision website. I am extremely excited to collaborate with them and extremely grateful to the crowdfunders, without whom we would never have been able to tell this amazing, yet very tragic story. Our team worked super hard for a whole year on this and I’m so thankful to the people who opened up their lives to us and our cameras throughout this emotional roller coaster and important period of history.

My Syrian friend Azad

© Yara De Freitass

The first time I met Azad was a year and a half ago. I had just returned from the scene of a suicide bombing in the disputed area of Kirkuk in Northern Iraq. He was the overnight security at my hotel in Erbil. A community centre belonging to old retired peshmerga had been blown to pieces a few miles down the road by Islamic extremists. And I had trampled through exploded armchairs and playing cards drenched in blood to get my Interviews. It was the same story every week.
“Why would these people still continue to live there?” I’d asked him baffled.

“Kurds will never leave the place they call home, they will never live under tyrants again” he’d said. “They will fight to the end.”

I believed him. It was like they had no fear. 

Azad, though, did leave his home. Syria. No longer a home, but now a war zone. He’d deserted from the Assad regime when he couldn’t bear it any longer. Leaving his family and fiancé behind in Al-Hasaka, he’d crossed the border into Northern Iraq on foot. That same week his relatives had tried to cross illegally into Turkey by boat. But it had sunk. And they’d drowned. The only reason he had not been on it was back then, he could not afford it.

Almost half of his country’s population are now refugees.

“Looking back” I asked Azad, “do you ever think the Assad regime was any better than ISIS?”

“Why is it, that we always have to choose between the worse and the worser?” he replied.

He has spent almost €10,000 euros travelling illegally. 

“Us Syrians will sell everything we have for freedom.”

From Erbil with the help of a smuggler, Azad made it to Turkey. And a few weeks later, Greece. But one boat ride and a 5 mile trek later he was picked up by police in the town of Orestiada, beaten up by officers in prison, shoved back on a boat and then transported illegally back to Turkey… black and bruised. 

Once again, I found myself asking the same questions. 

“Why Azad? You made it to Northern Iraq.. It wasn’t so bad was it? Why not just stay there? Why would you risk your life like that?”

When I had visited the region a few years back, Erbil was completely free of violence, business was booming and the region was even being marketed as a tourist destination. Now it’s people live in fear of ISIS infiltrating their borders. Perhaps he had foreseen it all. 

It was then, that I realised that Azad is not so dissimilar from the rest of us. It’s just we seem to take every small slice of freedom we have for granted and we underestimate its value.

“I am 32,” he told me. “I want a family, I want a home, I want not to cower and hide from bombs or police everywhere I go. I want peace. Yes I risk my life but if I reach Germany.. I can live the rest of my life in peace.”

That day Azad tried to make his way to Greece again. “Well, maybe today”, he told me. “The smugglers always lie”. I was drying my hair getting ready for bed later that night when I received a message from his dying phone. 

He was on a beach in the middle of the Mediterranean in pitch black darkness. 

“Plz Theopi help us we r now in an Greek Island name Pasas near Chios. The weather is very bad. We can’t see anyone on the island and we have pregnant women with us.”

I tried to put him in touch with people who could help nearby. 

“Has the smuggler just left you there?” 

“Yes he just left us. We will sleep on the ground. We are cold and wet.”

In my warm bed, it seemed so unfair that I could hardly do anything to help their situation.

The next day they were picked up by police. I made sure to warn him about extreme right wing Golden Dawners in Greece who would not take too kindly to his presence. Many of them were probably the officers who found him. 

They kept them all for a couple of days in prison and then released them with papers allowing them 6 months stay. The next time I heard from him, he was renting from an Egyptian man in downtown Athens. 

“We pay €100 each a month. But they put four of us in one bedroom.” 

I remember at the time thinking, in the middle of a financial crisis that Egyptian man must be raking it in. 

Azad would message from the Internet cafe but leave early because he didn’t want to walk back too late in the dark and bump into the men dressed all in black. 

“All the walls in Athens are full of mottos but in Greek language that i do not understand. On the wall of our flat though, it’s written in English: Eat the rich, fight the nazis.”

At least that made us both smile. 

Every day I worried about how he was doing. If he’d been detained; if he’d been beaten up; if he’d attempted the next leg of his journey yet. 

His plan was to obtain a fake European passport for €6,000 and fly out asap. 

“I will stay one more month here. it is winter so walking through Macedonia and Serbia now is too difficult because of weather. No Syrian wants to stay in Greece. I never imagined things would be this bad here. We all want to leave.”

Over the next months he stayed in touch sporadically. He crossed Macedonia, made it to Serbia, reached Hungary and then on Boxing Day last year whilst stuffing my face with leftover turkey, my phone beeped. 


I’m in Germany.”

One year had passed, but Finally Azad had reached his destination. 

It was the best Christmas present I think I’ve ever had. 

He tells me they look after him and that the Germans are getting better at understanding the crisis. There are debates about it everyday on tv. He gets free accommodation; €400 in benefits; he’s learning German so that he can find work.

“Am good I got 1room flat with a kitchen and bath”

Today we have been waiting for news about his sister and her one year old baby. They were expected to arrive in Hungary, with thousands of others who are looking to enter Austria. 

© Hanane Kai


They’ve risked crossing borders on foot through Turkey and Serbia.. They’ve risked boarding a rubber boat to Greece. But in Hungary they could risk being told their journey to join their family has come to an end. 

It seems strange to me that Azad’s journey like many others’ began three or more years ago but that only this week the story of the Syrian refugee is on everybody’s lips and timelines and newspaper front pages. It took a photograph of a washed up dead child for politicians to say they were reduced to tears, for Europe to stop talking and start acting. 

Germany is heralded as being the first country to start making positive moves towards dealing with the crisis.. There are talks of cancelling the failed Dublin II agreement. But this tragedy has been ongoing for a long time as we’ve all been living in our own bubbles getting on with our own lives. Yes action is good.. But for me it’s still happened too late. For Azad the issue is beyond the refugee problem. 

“We need to focus on Syria. So long as life there is unbearable the refugees will still be washing up on our shores. They will just continue to risk their lives.”

It’s nearly midnight now and Azad tells me he is over the moon as his sister and the baby have actually managed to make it on a train to Germany. He’s messaging from Rome. He was so worried he had booked a flight to Hungary to meet them, with a change in Italy. I tell him I’m so pleased. 

You should celebrate, I say. 

“Yes.. ISIS were beginning to enter our city Al-Hassaka. They were about 500 metres away from my family’s house.”

There is a graffiti in Athens on the wall opposite where migrants queue for asylum papers and I always remember it because it made such a big impact on me. It reads “The war is here”. 

The war is not just on the frontlines in Syria or Iraq or Libya. It’s also on the deadly and illegal Mediterranean boat crossings amongst those searching for a peaceful existence. Its in the squalid migrant detention centres that force its prisoners to jump off the balcony and commit suicide. It’s in the hands of the smugglers.. On our streets, at our borders, our motorways, train stations and homes and we are all a part of it. 

The war is everywhere. And the cost of freedom is high. 

Thoughts outside the PM’s office

 Outside the Prime Minister’s offices the streets are lit with yellow light and who knows what meetings are still happening and continuing until the early hours and beyond. 

Greece is in the middle of a slow but accelerating bank run, a political crisis and could default on its debt by the end of the month.

The atmosphere here four months ago was electric and full of hope.. “It’s time for dreams to take revenge” I was told in the Syriza campaign tent on the night they won. But many now wonder if these dreams will just be shattered. 

People knew Tsipras had promised things he might not be able to deliver, but most told me they’d be satisfied if he accomplished just one in ten of his promises.  

Four months and many concessions later, he is fighting with everything he has to uphold the mandate he was given by the public who elected him to abolish austerity.

“We will probably be the only country to pay with our own blood.. ” He once told me.

Since his win, the poorest of Greeks have seen food vouchers and electricity reinstated, but generally I’m beginning to see a loss of patience amongst people who tell me nothing much has changed since last year.

Thousands turned out on Wednesday to support their country and government against what they say is the blackmailing of Europe. The majority of greeks still want hope for a solution to be found within the union. 

It’s the first outpouring of support I’ve seen in a while. Many are disappointed that not enough has been done at the negotiating table.. or blame the government for not been tough enough. The dockworkers who voted for Syriza to avoid privatisation now face a full privatisation of their port. Former right wing voters who supported syriza are still waiting for a determined crackdown on corruption.

“We lost the rendezvous with the revolution” a woman told me last week. She says she’s still waiting.

Over the last four months what I’ve witnessed inside the walls of the parliament and prime minister’s office is this: They don’t stop. There’ve been weeks of meetings, flights, press conferences, inquiries.. A determination to fight until the last minute for what they believe in. But time has finally run out.

Under the moonlight the ancient Acropolis looks down upon everything. She’s probably the only one who knows the true story of what happened in this greek tragedy. What she doesn’t know and what she’s probably never seen are the events that will follow in a Europe that’s never felt so fractured or appeared so drained of solidarity. At least that is to the Greeks.

History in the making – My short doc on Syriza win

What an amazing thing.. to witness history being written in front of your eyes. And not only that, but to be able to record it in video for future generations to see. In January the radical left party Syriza won the Greek election. It promised change, an end to austerity and hope. It had 22 days to win over the public and this is how they did it. I followed Syriza’s activists, candidates and leadership from the waterfront, to remote mountain villages, to the nail biting final days. I made some amazing Greek colleagues along the way who helped put together the final 15 min cut. You can watch it HERE: