Syrian Immigrant Mayor Turns Abandoned Greek Resort Into Home for Refugees

Nabil-Iosif Morad never thought he’d be in a position to assist hundreds of refugees when he left Syria 25 years ago.
Jun 12, 2016·
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

A bone-dry water slide, sagging Ping-Pong nets, and some 40 bungalows at a picturesque beachside resort in Greece have sat abandoned for the past five years—victims of that nation’s tough economic times. But the formerly empty tourist attraction has been brought back to life as home to more than 300 Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

Refugee families have created a community at the LM Village in the Peloponnese region of Greece. Before coming to the shuttered resort, many lived at the Greece-Macedonia border in tents, without access to bathrooms or running water.

“They came here with nothing—no clothes, no blankets, nothing,” Nabil-Iosif Morad, the mayor of Andravida-Kylini, says in a video produced by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. He organized the conversion of the resort in March after Greek officials called upon local municipalities to help care for the more than 54,000 migrants living in Greece.

The refugee crisis is a personal one for Morad, who grew up in Homs, Syria. He left the war-torn country 25 years ago, when he was 17, but still has family living there.

“I couldn’t believe it—that I would have Greek citizenship and be mayor of an area hosting refugees from Syria,” Morad says in the video. He is the country’s first naturalized Greek citizen from Syria to become an elected official.

Each bungalow has two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen with a sink and a stove. Two families split each small home and spend their days maintaining the grounds. Many of the children have taken up table tennis and transformed the water slide into a jungle gym. The village also receives aid from Red Cross volunteers, who give out food and offer English and Greek lessons, according to the UNHCR.

Lawyers visit the LM Village to provide free consultations and help refugees coordinate interviews with the country’s asylum service as they await relocation within the European Union. More than a dozen refugees have moved on to Portugal.

“It makes me happy to see them living like this after they’ve left from bombs and war,” Morad says. “They can spend their remaining time in Greece in good hands.”