Confronted with a wave of refugees coming to Leros island, Matina Katsiveli, a former magistrate, has dedicated the last 13 years of her life to caring for refugees, ensuring they have fresh clothes, toiletries, and something warm to eat.
The tiny Greek island is dealing with dozens of arrivals daily.
“I wish there was no reason for refugees, but while there are wars and refugees, I can’t just sit back with my eyes closed”.
Katsiveli is one of numerous Greeks trying to manage largely alone, with little or no support from government agencies or international agencies.
Katsiveli has been leading a volunteer aid group of average citizens— many of them poor themselves with pensions and salaries cut from the half-decade of austerity imposed upon Greece by European lenders.
“The police and Coast Guard here just don’t have enough staff, and there’s so much work, so we have to help them,” she said one morning, as she handed out tiny T-shirts to a group of Afghan toddlers. “We have always been understaffed, always. The Europeans fine us, saying we don’t have proper facilities.
But, beyond fines, they don’t want to bother with us,” she said in an interview with The New Yorker.
Katsiveli is a member of Syriza, the leftist party now running Greece. The new government says that it wants to help refugees, but it’s broke and stuck in a tense standoff with international lenders over conditions for extending bailout loans. Nevertheless, Katsiveli managed to secure forty thousand euros from the state in order to renovate an abandoned house for the Leros Coast Guard to use as a temporary shelter for newly arrived migrants.