On the night of Saturday, 7 March 2020, “unknown persons” set fire to the premises of “One Happy Family,” an open social centre outside of the city of Mytilene that supports refugees and migrants.
Since 2017, when it was created, One Happy Family constitutes a humane space of encounter, relaxation, and education for refugees and migrants who live in Lesvos: in the Moria hotspot, at the Kara Tepe camp, and in apartments in Mytilene. The services it provides are food, medical care, a space for resting and leisure, childcare, and education. Some of its sub-projects include: a kitchen, a dining hall, a medical centre, a café, a cybercafé, a cinema, video games, hair salon, an educational centre, a library, a bank, a garden, a greenhouse, a gym and sport facilities, music lessons, yoga, playground, a “nest” for small children, and a safe space for women. This multitude of services and activities cover to a large degree the gaps that have emerged from the inadequate humanitarian assistance and the absence of state intervention, more generally in Greece, and specifically in Lesvos.
A special reference must be made to the ‘School of Peace’, which for the past three years offered daily access to education for children and adults. Since February 2017, it was a “home” for more than 4,000 children who passed through the island.
The fire at One Happy Family was no accident. The police department of Mytilene published a press release which states that it was planned arson. According to the people who created and staff One Happy Family this hate crime is an “attack on the edifice of solidarity.” Burning down a school and a social centre means not only the destruction of particular buildings, but also the destruction of a place that secures basic and self-evident human rights, a space of learning, expression, creativity–a space of freedom.
The arson took place in the midst of a period of dramatic escalation of violence against refugees, volunteers, journalists, and local solidarians–not only by law enforcement agencies, but also by groups of far-right extremists. Moreover, this was the outgrowth of the policies of recent years that have led to an emergency situation in the Aegean islands, at the borders of northern Greece, and in Greece in general: thousands of people are trapped in miserable conditions in the Moria hotspot, many more on other islands. The ongoing violation of human rights, the cessation of the right to apply for asylum in Greece, illegal pushbacks and violent obstruction of people in their attempt to cross the borders–these are just some of the characteristics of the emergency situation. The creators and staff of One Happy Family remind us that “All of these are much worse than the damage caused to the buildings of One Happy Family and the International School of Peace. All these are still continuing.”
The arson took place in a country where a member of the ruling party commented on the incident on Facebook as “One happy night.” Indeed, when another fb user replied to him that “you rejoice in disaster; that’s how miserable you’ve become,” the former answered: “No, it’s not a disaster. This is more idyllic than a sunset in Santorini.”
Between sunset and sunrise, “light and darkness,” racist paranoia and solidarity, ashes and rebirth, One Happy Family continues to be–and not only “was”–a promise of encounter of people from different points of departure who nevertheless have similar goals: the improvement of their living conditions.
Thankfully there “exists […] a large solidarity movement all over the world, which is determined by the struggle for human rights, equality, and justice”; hence this promise is not only located in Lesvos but everywhere in the world. “We will rebuild the school! Together, the light will prevail over the darkness.”