For months after arriving in Greece, Syrian refugees have been fed by the government, allowed to sleep on the street, and pressured to work at bingo halls, massage parlors and supermarkets. In Greece, housing and jobs aren’t always easy to come by. But that hasn’t stopped the Islamic State from using them as forced laborers.
Border officials in the nearby border town of Idomeni say that at least 10,000 Syrians and Iraqis have arrived since August in the southern part of the country, the camps where they are housed are run by charities, and the Iraqi government is paying the border police to ensure they aren’t re-entering Macedonia. The bingo halls, an unusually illegal venture for the Islamic State, have flourished in Idomeni, a village just a few miles from the border with Macedonia. A month ago, there were only about 100 bingo halls in the whole country, an equal number in the Mediterranean, and the numbers have doubled in the area, a four-lane road at one end of town empty of cars. The Syrians pay around $10 a week, and about half of that goes toward bingo tournaments, which migrants attend to train themselves to speak Greek, according to a report by Sébastien Krauthausen, a reporter for Die Zeit newspaper.
The villages where these bingo halls are located have been overwhelmed by Syrians trying to reach northern Europe. In the southern Idomeni village of Moria, some migrants can be seen knocking back cans of lager, sitting outside grocers selling cigarettes, and smearing the pavement with chocolate to drink out of puddles, according to an Associated Press report. Beneath the clouds of cigarette smoke, there are some modest homes occupied by desperate migrants hoping to improve their precarious situation. Some only have a table or couch for a bed, but even their possessions are dirty, torn, and infested with flies.
Even people born in Greece enjoy their luxury. Like the refugees, they too are living in a state of economic destitution — with some living in a cave in Idomeni’s housing camp. In the southern portion of the Greek island of Lesbos, asylum-seekers are paid to work at stores, markets, and restaurants, among other things. Even when they are allowed to live in the apartment apartments reserved for asylum-seekers, they have to work six hours a day, and only receive food stamps on the seventh day, because of time limits imposed by the Greek government.
Although they offer a better life, many of the asylum-seekers say they were tricked into coming to Greece, and the borders nearby aren’t clear or secure. Those caught sneaking in across the border into Macedonia now risk being killed by smugglers and imprisoned in Idomeni camps.