After 12 years of living in Greece, Khan Yousafzai, a refugee from Pakistan, still felt like an outsider.
“Before coming to Greece, I thought that society would welcome me and give me every opportunity to bring my ideas into reality. I thought it would be like an American dream,” he says. Instead he felt discriminated against and neglected. “There was no opportunity to shape society.”
Then he met Fanis Kollias, a young Greek in the process of launching Solomon, an online magazine that aims to help local and refugee populations communicate and shape society together.
Launched in January this year with the help of business incubator Impact Hub Athens, the magazine’s concept encourages two-way integration, asking both locals and newcomers to get to know each other and to explore one another’s cultures.
Alongside Khan and Fanis, the magazine’s core team also includes Greek editor-in-chief Rosa Vassilatu, Afghan refugees Nadir Noori and Nasrudin Nizami, and Anna Mironova and Nonna Daigorodova, who arrived in Greece from Russia and Belarus respectively.
The magazine’s team is keen to give migrants and refugees a voice; publishing articles on under-reported issues that affect their lives in Greece.
Last month, the team launched a crowdfunding campaign to support the Solomon’s Real Journalism Project, where migrants and refugees will be paired with freelance journalists.
The project has two aims: to give further coverage to issues facing migrant communities and to help train inexperienced Solomon editors. In turn, freelance journalists gain access to communities and issues they might struggle to reach alone.
With the Greek-Macedonia border closed, there are more than 50,000 migrants and refugees stranded in Greece according to the ekathimerini.com news site.
Greece is in its seventh year of economic crisis and has few resources with which to promote integration. There are few free language classes and no official mosque in Athens
“Put on the TV and you see everyone talking about refugees and immigration,” says editor-in-chief, Rosa. “They provide their opinion but there are no refugee voices. No one is asking what they need.”
As the magazine’s columnist, Khan’s role is to write about issues facing the thousands of refugees and migrants living in Greece. He’s also keen to present solutions, from their point of view. “This way, the host society can understand our problems,” he says.
In the latest edition, issue two, he investigates how asylum seekers are bending the rules to set up their own businesses. With many waiting years for their residence permits, entrepreneurial asylum seekers are starting new businesses with friends or acquaintances that already have legal status.
In another interview, a Ukrainian dancer talks about how some migrants don’t mix with the local population. Hassan, a Somali living in Greece, gives a guide to his home country’s cuisine.
“Every day we see a dark side of the refugee crisis,” says founder, Fanis. “But we’re focusing on the bright side of coexisting.”
The magazine took its name from ‘The Elephant’s Journey’, a book by Nobel Prize-winning author José Saramago.
The team have interpreted the book’s main character, Solomon the elephant, as representative of refugees and migrants. As Solomon travels the world, people see him differently even though he remains the same.
Khan is hopeful that Solomon can make Greece more accepting of its refugee and migrant communities. He says: “I am part of the society. The question is, does society feel ready to accept me? Greek society is gradually changing its attitude toward immigrants. This will take time, but it will happen.”