Transcript

592: Are We There Yet?

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Prologue

Ira Glass

When you visit a refugee camp full of Muslims, you don't expect to get into a lot of conversations about pigs, but that's what happened to me. This is about a month ago. I'd barely been in the refugee camp a few hours before people started telling me stories.

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

We've seen the pig with our own eyes. We've seen the boar. We've taken pictures of videos of it, videos of it.

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

We've taken a selfie with it. Yeah.

Ira Glass

Bassam and Farhad are 19. That's an interpreter, by the way, speaking English. This is a refugee camp in Greece called Ritsona, about an hour from Athens. It was thrown together in March by the government on an old air force base. Very quickly, they set up tents for 700 people, brought in a few dozen port-a-potties, designated an old helicopter pad as the soccer field. But it's the middle of the woods, so snakes get in the tents, and at night, wild boars do roam around. Everybody's attitude about the boars was like, seriously? We escaped a war, risked dying on these tiny boats, and now we come here and this?

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

It is a huge boar. It's basically as big as we are. It's this big.

Ira Glass

OK, so this is a video. Oh look. There it is.

Interpreter

Yes.

Ira Glass

The boars especially hang out near the toilets, and they are really big and frightening. And some people just hold it in all night rather than go. Other people, they're taking action.

Mimi Karmiri

Over there. You see? This is a handmade trap.

Ira Glass

Mimi Karmiri was the field coordinator running the camp, and she walked me out in the woods with one of the refugees, Abu Khair, to show me the trap that he'd built to catch the boars. It wasn't what I pictured. And what is it, a dumpster?

Mimi Karmiri

Yes, it's a dumpster. And so he has put a piece of meat inside in order to attract the animals.

Ira Glass

The dumpster's turned on its side, and the lid was propped open with a log so a boar could just walk right in.

Abu Khair

This open. That food to animals.

Ira Glass

Abu Khair grabs the lid.

Abu Khair

If animals catch food, this closes.

Ira Glass

So basically the lid closes, and then the log comes down and holds it shut.

Abu Khair

And this thing.

[CLAPPING]

Ira Glass

He claps his hands. I didn't say anything, but it did not seem at all clear that that lid was going to stay on with an angry, 200 pound pig inside. Before I got to Greece, I knew that there were lots of refugees there, fleeing violence from Syria, and Iraq, and Afghanistan, just like everybody had seen those photos last year of people landing in Greece by boat on their way to Germany and other European countries. Then this year, in March, one of the European nations said basically, "We're not taking you. You have to stay in Greece," to all these refugees.

Suddenly, the poorest country in Western Europe had to figure out how to house, and feed, and care for all these people, about 57,000 of them, stuck. And Greece was really not prepared. Its government was limping along after six years of austerity measures, which means, if you haven't been following this, there have been several waves of cutbacks in government services. A fourth of the country is out of work.

The government quickly ad hocced its way into housing for tens of thousands of people. And as a result, you have this camp in the woods with wild boars. And 130 miles away on the coast, some Syrian refugees were living in an abandoned beach resort on the Ionian Sea.

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Kids play in the sand, and modestly dressed women in long sleeves, and long pants, and headscarves walk straight into the surf. Elsewhere around the country, if you want to come with me right now on a quick tour, around 1,300 Iraqis are housed in the grounds of a former psychiatric hospital near Mount Olympus. Down in Athens, 2,000 people are in two stadiums, baseball and field hockey, left over from the 2004 Olympic games.

Somebody has spray painted a sign outside that says, in English, with arrows, "hockey, baseball, refugees." Next door to the stadiums, 1,000 people are living in an old international airport that closed back in 2001. There are departure boards, listing flights to Paris and Berlin with specific times and gates, from when it was still a functioning airport. Right nearby, the people sleeping in tents weren't going anywhere.

Meanwhile, up north, near the Macedonian border, my colleague, This American Life producer Sean Cole, visited a highway rest stop that is pretty much exactly like any rest stop you would find on, like, the New Jersey turnpike or I-80 driving to Chicago. Inside, there's a convenience store with Pringles, and Oreos, and sodas. And then outside, where the gas pumps are, were pop tents with 2,000 people living in them, music playing.

People sat around the gas pumps, chatting and smoking right there, which probably not the best idea. An eight-year-old boy walked up to Sean and his interpreter Manaf with a request.

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Manaf

Yes, I would like to take your passport.

[LAUGHTER]

To go to Germany.

Sean Cole

So you would pose as me?

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Manaf

I will get the same haircut.

Sean Cole

I think they would still be able to tell the difference.

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Manaf

Would you make a passport for me, then?

Sean Cole

I could maybe draw one.

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

What do you think about this place?

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Manaf

It's not beautiful.

Ira Glass

This gas station camp, by the way, was not an official refugee camp set up by the state. In fact, just a few days after Sean was there, the government relocated everybody to authorized camps. To give you a sense of just how seat-of-the-pants the Greek response to the refugee crisis has been, I talked to this guy who managed a camp of about 2,000 refugees when he was there. His name is Sakis Papithemilis. He's a civil servant. He chooses his words thoughtfully. And who, by the way, has his own salary cut in half over the last four years.

NPR'S reporter in Greece, Joanna Kakissis, introduced me to him. She guided, actually, a lot of the reporting that we did around Greece. Sakis told Joanna and me that even trying to do something straightforward in the camp that he managed, like, for example, arrange for trash pickup, he would run into an incredibly basic problem.

Sakis Papithemilis

[SPEAKING GREEK]

Joanna Kakissis

With the trash, for example, I couldn't organize the trash being picked up, because legally the camp didn't exist. The camp just wasn't there on paper.

Ira Glass

Got that? The camps were created so quickly that nobody made them into any kind of legal entity. They weren't a business. They weren't a government agency. So they didn't have the power to actually sign any kind of contract with anyone to do anything.

Sakis Papithemilis

[SPEAKING GREEK]

Joanna Kakissis

And everything had to be done with a handshake. OK, you want to help me? Come over here and help me.

Sakis Papithemilis

[SPEAKING GREEK]

Joanna Kakissis

He's saying the municipalities helped a lot.

Sakis Papithemilis

[SPEAKING GREEK]

Ira Glass

He said that in the end, the city of Thessaloniki agreed to pick up his trash. And they paid for it too, just 'cause he needed the help. And then he had to work around this same exact frustrating problem to get anything done. To get food brought in, to install proper sewage, to install proper showers and toilets, just anything, he couldn't make a legal agreement. He had to go off the books.

Four of us from our staff traveled to Greece. We were joined by Joanna, who's been reporting on this and breaking stories on the refugee crisis for two years now. We were interested in how the Greek government was dealing with the refugees, but honestly, we also wanted to know what it was like for all these people who, you know, they thought they were heading somewhere else in Europe, and now they were stuck in these camps, in this weird kind of limbo, where they're just waiting for some country to let them in, and they can restart their lives. It's just a strange place to find yourself.

Outside the old international airport, by a hot dog stand just across the highway from the beach, which is there also, Marzia and her husband Jamal and their three kids are living in a little tent. It's really hot, and every day, a fancy green convertible Saab parks outside their tent. And every day, Marzia goes and sits in the shade of that car to cool herself off.

Marzia

[NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

Ira Glass

She's saying, sometimes its get so crazy. I'm tired of the sun, of this place, everything. And she says the hotter it gets, the more she loses it. Which means--

Marzia

[NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

Ira Glass

Pretty much every day she loses it. She and her husband Jamal talk to another This American Life producer, Miki Meek. They're ethnic Hazaras, who are discriminated against in Afghanistan, where they're from, and also targeted by the Taliban. So they moved to Iran for a while, where they have no rights at all. Couldn't even put their kids in school. And then they ended up here five months ago, where Jamal is getting used to his wife basically freaking out every single day, and telling him they need to give up and go back.

Interpreter

Today, my wife was just crying that I had it. You gotta make a decision-- either we go back, or we move forward. And I explained to her, look, my dear. We can't go back, because there's nothing to go back to. And moving forward is no longer in my hands. The border is closed. So then I said, darling, let's go to the beach. And perhaps that will help you, like, just calm down for a moment. And it did.

Miki Meek

Are you worried about move might stop working eventually? Let's go to the beach?"

[NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

Interpreter

Yeah, I'm thinking about it. You know, this is another worry for me. So if this doesn't work, I'll find another way to please her and make her happy.

[NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

Ira Glass

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our program, we have stories of people on the run who get stuck in this place they do not want to be, what that's like. Stay with us.

Act One: Field of Interrupted Dreams

Ira Glass

Act 1, Field of Interrupted Dreams. So one good place to see how the Greeks' ad hoc response is working is at the baseball stadium in Athens. About a fourth of the refugees in Greece are from Afghanistan, and about 1,000 of them were brought into this abandoned stadium that was left over from the Olympics. The infield was all dirt. One of our producers, Miki, went there.

Miki Meek

Here's how you turn a baseball stadium into a refugee camp. Out in the door of the infield and the outfield you set up 150 white tents. They're standard issue from the UN. At the concession stand, give out rations. Right behind home plate, there's a press box. Make that the office. For bathrooms, use the locker rooms behind the dugouts. There's one for men and one for women. The women's is way cleaner.

We're walking to the women's area.

Anna Agriteli

The women are very organized. They have a list. They clean the bathrooms twice a day.

Miki Meek

The women?

Anna Agriteli

Men are not better organized. We have to drag them to clean their bathroom.

Miki Meek

One of the camps managers, Anna Agriteli, is giving me a tour. She has big brown hair pulled into a ponytail. She's Greek. So we're just walking into the locker room. And the floors are a little flooded, so we're just walking through a pool water. All the lockers and benches have been ripped out. And over in the showers, women are squatting with buckets full of water and clothing.

11 showers.

Anna Agriteli

Now they're washing their clothes.

Miki Meek

Laundry, they're doing laundry now. So does this just get flooded just from the people doing their laundry?

Anna Agriteli

Their laundry, yes.

Miki Meek

OK. I counted 12 toilets. Only six were working. This was for 300 women and about 200 girls. Did you ever go to a baseball game during the Olympics?

Anna Agriteli

No. We are not big fans of baseball in Greece. We don't even know baseball.

Miki Meek

Most of the refugees stay out of their tents during the day, because they're too hot. They're totally exposed on the field, no shade. Temperatures right now reach into the 90s. So lots of people hang out in the upper levels of the stadium seats, because they're partially covered by an overhanging roof. They also crowd around any electrical outlet they can find to charge phones or plug in electric tea pots. The Olympics were held here. I keep thinking that.

Anna is in charge of everything in the stadium, everything-- a woman who didn't get shampoo when they handed it out, the broken toilets. The day I was there, they didn't have enough drinking water and baby formula to get through the coming week. She takes me over to homebase, where they built a prototype cover for the tents, these giant pieces of green sheer fabric stretched over a tent to try and cool it down in the sun.

Anna Agriteli

This is sample. See if it works. But we don't like it, and we're going to change it.

Miki Meek

So is it not working well? Or what would you guys want?

Anna Agriteli

No, it's very, very bad. And if you put 150 of those, then I'm not going to see the people.

Miki Meek

She needs to see the people, in case there's a fire or some other disturbance. It's happened. This is Anna's third month on the job. Before this, she worked as a production assistant at a theater company.

Miki Meek

Is there anything that you learned in that job that's useful in this job?

Anna Agriteli

No. But maybe the production, the crazy hours that you work in the production, that's the same, and that you have to devise a solution for every crazy thing.

Miki Meek

Situations that come up, you have to, like, work on the fly. Anna, old are you?

Anna Agriteli

30.

Miki Meek

She's actually older than a lot of her coworkers. It's mostly women working at the camp. Anna's boss is 25. 25 years old and overseeing the biggest camp in Athens, working out of a concession stand that probably sold hot dogs.

Miki Meek

So why is it that it's mostly very young women that are working in here and managing this camp?

Anna Agriteli

Because this job is very hard, and only women can do it.

Miki Meek

Is that your official or unofficial answer?

Anna Agriteli

No, no. It's the unofficial answer. You need to have a lot of power, a lot of hours.

Miki Meek

You have to be tireless.

Anna Agriteli

Yes.

Miki Meek

At several of these camps we went to around Greece, the young women running them began as volunteers when the crisis started. Then they took charge. They worked long hours. They don't really take days off. And they set a tone at the camps. The government doesn't want the camps to feel like prisons. People can come and go. And having these young women in charge helps with that. They don't act like guards or bosses. They're just bad asses and sweethearts. Anna and the other woman who runs this stadium are constantly making these little jokes and laughing with everyone. Every few steps on our tour, Anna got stopped.

[NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

Miki Meek

Do you get hugs a lot?

Anna Agriteli

Yes.

Miki Meek

How many times a day or do you think you get hugged?

Anna Agriteli

Too many, too many, too many.

Miki Meek

Well, I guess there's worse things people can do than hug you, right?

Anna Agriteli

Yes, yes. They could throw rocks at me. No, they're all very polite. And men, they're very polite and very protective.

Miki Meek

Like, when she walks to the bus stop on the highway late at night, five or six men always walk out with her to make sure she's safe. They won't leave until they see her board the bus.

Anna Agriteli

OK, you wait here outside.

Miki Meek

In the span of 15 minutes, I watched Anna comfort a woman who came to her to say that she was feeling suicidal. Her husband was ignoring her. Anna then went to find help for a guy who kept fainting.

Anna Agriteli

My friend, wait here. Don't go without seeing the doctor. Come after to the office. Tell me what happened.

Miki Meek

Moments later, a boy ran up to her to say that he was hungry, that he didn't get lunch.

Anna Agriteli

No, no. You got food.

Boy

No, I didn't, madame, no!

Anna Agriteli

But I saw you. But I saw you.

Miki Meek

She'd seen him grab food from the kitchen earlier in the day, she told me. Because she can't speak Dari, Anna mostly communicates through a combination of broken English, hand gestures, and [MEOWING] animal noises. That's Anna making cat sounds.

[OINKING]

That's the pig, her favorite. I watched Anna oink her way down crowded hallways, oinking as she hands out juice boxes to kids.

Anna Agriteli

Here, my friend!

Miki Meek

Oinking the middle of conversations with adults.

Miki Meek

You always make this little pig sound.

Anna Agriteli

I don't know why I do it. It's like a tick.

Miki Meek

She says it's like a tick. Given Anna's personality, the hardest part of her job might be obvious. It's saying "no."

Anna Agriteli

Like every two, three days, I'll have a breakdown because the nos that I say, they are a lot.

Miki Meek

You say a lot of nos.

Anna Agriteli

Yes, when I say to somebody "no," I feel very bad. Because in my personal life, I never used to say no.

Miki Meek

You did? I'm not so good at saying no either.

Anna Agriteli

Yes.

Miki Meek

It's hard.

Anna Agriteli

Come and work here. You'll get used to it in a month.

Miki Meek

What are people always asking you for?

Anna Agriteli

Shoes.

Miki Meek

Is it shoes?

Anna Agriteli

Yes, shoes are the most asked for thing here. "I want shoes now."

Miki Meek

And what do you say?

Anna Agriteli

"You have to wait."

Miki Meek

She says they've already given out sneakers twice in the past three months to everyone. But every day, she says, she gets this request over and over, mostly from young men. As if on cue, two guys, most likely in their 20s, show up.

Anna Agriteli

Eh? Shoes?

[NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

Miki Meek

Anna tells them no. And I guess she's had so much practice with this one, as you heard, she doesn't even hesitate. Anna moves on, but it's a puzzle to her. Why the constant need for more shoes?

Later, I'm wandering around the tents in the ball field with my interpreter, and we're talking to a guy who lives near third base. And we accidentally discover the answer. His name's Habib. He's 45. He's Afghan, like most everyone in the stadium. He tells me back home in Kabul, he was a shoemaker. So I have to ask.

Miki Meek

So I was talking to the camp manager, and she said the number one thing people ask for here is shoes. Why?

Habib

[SPEAKING DARI]

Interpreter

I can tell you the reason why-- Afghans.

Miki Meek

There are two reasons, actually. One is, they don't wear shoes in their tents, and sneakers are a pain to take on and off if you have to fuss with the laces. So they smash in the backs of the shoes and wear them like slippers. The second reason is, and here Habib started making a kicking motion with his feet.

Habib

[SPEAKING DARI]

Interpreter

The reason is because Afghans love to play soccer.

Miki Meek

The younger guys destroyed their shoes so fast because they are always playing soccer at a field nearby. That's it. Not much of a mystery after all. Habib says there's not much for people to do at the camp, and soccer helps them break up the boredom.

Habib

[SPEAKING DARI]

Interpreter

So it's like this-- you wake up in the morning. We look at each other. There's nothing. Then we go and have breakfast. Then we come back and sit and look at each other. There's nothing else. We used to have some playing cards, and then somebody stole it. So we try to listen to music on the cell phones. And then we look at each other again. And then it's afternoon. Then we go and have some lunch. And then we come back and sit here and then look at each other again.

And then we just fall asleep. We take a long nap until 6:00 PM. And then at 6:00 PM, we go and play some soccer. And then we come back here, have dinner. And then we look at each other again, and then we fall asleep.

Miki Meek

So you're pretty sick of looking at each other now.

Habib

[SPEAKING DARI]

Interpreter

You know, the thing is, you have to understand. Today, you guys came here, and we talked. And I don't even-- the time, how it passed. But on normal days, regular days, one hour to us passes like one whole year of boredom.

Miki Meek

There's a pretty nice public beach that's only a 15 minute walk from the stadium. Habib says he takes his kids there a few times a week, but never on weekends.

Interpreter

Not on Saturdays and Sundays, because it's the Greeks' holidays, and we want them to enjoy the beach themselves.

Miki Meek

He wanted them to have the beach to themselves? Really? I asked him if that was it, or was it that he just felt uncomfortable among the Greeks.

Miki Meek

Is there any part that you wouldn't go to the beach because maybe you would feel like you may not be wanted there?

Habib

[SPEAKING DARI]

Interpreter

They're very nice people. I don't feel uncomfortable. But when it comes to the beach situation, it's like, OK, we heard that the Greeks had complained that there are a lot of Afghans coming to the beach, and it was getting too crowded for them.

So we came here. We talked with each other and we decided we don't want the Greeks to have a bad memory of us. So we decided on Saturdays and Sundays, we want them to go and enjoy themselves. And we don't want them to feel like we're there to take their space.

Miki Meek

About 3,000 people live in this complex, which includes this stadium, a field hockey stadium next door, and an old airport out front. And everyone I talked to knew this rule-- let the Greeks have the beach on the weekend.

Most of the Afghans have very little sense of what's going on outside the camp. There's no Wi-Fi here. They're barely getting news from outside. And I didn't meet anyone who spoke Greek. They're living in a bubble, a baseball field shaped bubble. So rumors go crazy. Most of them have to do with when, and how, or if they will get out of Greece.

Here's a few of them-- Angela Merkel, the German chancellor is personally coming to the stadium to rescue them. John Kerry is bringing a plane. The Canadians are sending a ship. And the most common-- Macedonia is going to reopen its borders again to Afghans.

Habib

[SPEAKING DARI]

Interpreter

Literally, like, we would hear the border has reopened. We're throwing a party, started dancing, clapping, cheering, hugging each other, congratulating each other. And then some people have literally left overnight to go to the border. And then in the morning we hear it was just a rumor.

Miki Meek

When was the last time that there was a party because people believed the border was opening?

Habib

[SPEAKING DARI]

Interpreter

The biggest one was about a month ago, but also about two weeks ago.

Miki Meek

How long does it take for a rumor to spread through a camp, this camp?

Interpreter

You have to understand, people, they have nothing to do except going around talking to each other, so it spreads within minutes. And believing in it, thinking that it might be right, actually makes you happy for a couple of days.

Miki Meek

In this stadium full of Afghans, one big piece of misinformation is about Syrians and how they're treated in Greece. In February, when the border closed to Afghans, Syrians were still being allowed through. Habib and his family watched Syrians cross over. Violent fights broke out that day between the two groups, and have continued ever since. It's one of the reasons why the Greek government segregates most of its camps by nationality. So there are no Syrians in this stadium, which Habib explains this way.

Habib

[SPEAKING DARI]

Interpreter

Look, Syrians are getting to stay in very nice hotels. Everybody cares about them, and they are issued visas right here, and then they get to fly out of Greece. So if the border's closed, it doesn't matter to them.

Miki Meek

Are there Syrians in this camp?

Habib

[SPEAKING DARI]

Interpreter

They're not in this camp, and I don't think they're in any other camps. They're living in hotels.

Miki Meek

Last Friday, I was in a camp, and that camp was all Syrian, who are also stuck here. And I was wondering if you knew that these camps full of Syrians exist here in Greece.

Habib

[SPEAKING DARI]

Interpreter

I've heard that there are Syrians here, but I haven't seen them here.

Miki Meek

Do the majority of people here believe that Syrians are getting flown out on airplanes?

Interpreter

Everybody believes here, because it's not a rumor, actually. They do fly Syrians out of here. You have to understand the difference between them and us, the Syrians and Afghans, is that for them they have help.

Miki Meek

Habib isn't exactly right about everything, but he's correct that there's a pecking order among the refugees, and Syrians are at the very top. They get top priority on their asylum and relocation applications for the EU. And then underneath the Syrians is pretty much everyone else-- Iraqis, Pakistanis, Iranians, and Afghans.

Act Two: The Parents, Trapped

Ira Glass

Miki Meek. Act 2, the parents, trapped. So what's it like being a parent in this situation? Kids are everywhere in the camps. They're a third of the refugees. You see them running around, improvising stuff to play with. You'll be standing there, and a four-year-old will march by, purposefully dragging a blanket on a string. And you'll think, OK.

The woman in charge of the Ritsona camp, the camp with the wild pigs, told me that it's the little kids who are doing better than anybody at the camps. And on the surface, watching them run around, they do seem good, like these five and seven-year-old sisters.

Hey, hey, hey, hey.

Ira Glass

Doing what I can tell you from experience any little kids do around a microphone anywhere in the world.

Little Girl

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Ira Glass

One girl goofs on the mic saying, "bye, uncle" over and over. And her sister calls her crazy.

Little Girl

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Ira Glass

So they seem fine, right? But scratch the surface a little, and it's a different story. That five-year-old? Her mom tells me she's still so traumatized by the Syrian War and what she's been through that when her mom wants to go to the bathroom, the little girl insists on coming in with her. She's always by her side. Lots of kids are still recovering.

A guy named Youness Aselom told me about his five-year-old. Youness was a second year law student back in Syria, but in the camp he's famous for being the guy that when a snake gets into your tent, Youness can catch it. If it's poisonous, he'll kill it. He's getting maybe one a day.

Youness Aselom

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

I'll get, like, a stick, like a long stick. And I'll just start to play with the snake. And I can show you a photo, but once I can get a stick right on top of the snake's head, I'll press down on it, so the snake's head is against the ground. And I'll just grab its head from behind. See, like in this picture right here?

Ira Glass

Anyway, his daughters. Being in the camp, of course, is way better than living with constant bombs and shooting back in Syria. A number of parents tell me that the kids are sleeping better, getting back to their old selves. They get to come and go as they please, which is too dangerous back home, to play with other kids.

But Youness says his daughters are not OK at all, and not happy.

Youness Aselom

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

I have a daughter who has psychological problems. A rocket fell on our house, and my mom and my other daughter were killed.

Youness Aselom

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Ira Glass

The house was destroyed. His five-year-old, the one in the camp, was three at the time. And since then?

Youness Aselom

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

And she became afraid of the sounds of airplanes. And now they have us in an air base. And now when a military jet passes over us, you know what? She starts to cry.

Ira Glass

Has she made friends?

Youness Aselom

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

No, she doesn't. She doesn't have any friends. I mean, she never leaves the tent.

Youness Aselom

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

And then this is a picture of my daughter, the one that died.

Ira Glass

The photo is shocking-- a cute three-year-old girl lying in rubble, dust on her face and clothes. It's hard to know what to say.

Interpreter

So they're actually-- they're twins. The five-year-old, so this is her twin that died. She was three years old when she died.

Ira Glass

Did she see this?

Youness Aselom

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

Yeah, she was with them when it happened. And this is our home.

Ira Glass

I know this isn't the point of his story at all, but this happened a bunch of times in the camps. Somebody would describe the most awful thing that could ever happen, and then they would pull out their cell phones. Like, oh here's a picture. Here's the bombed out apartment that used to be our house. Here is an overloaded raft crossing from Turkey into Greece. That's my kids in the orange life jackets.

I suppose if you visit war zones all the time, this is nothing new. And of course people use cell phones for this, to record the near annihilation of their families. I would do it too. But it was always jolting.

The interview that I did that gave me the best picture of what it's like to be a parent in the camps and the particular ways that it affected different members of a family to be here was an interview with a woman named Aziza Bashar. She's well dressed, even here, with a stylish hijab, a red and navy plaid button down jacket, and a steamlined navy skirt. It's like, what little she can control, she does.

Her husband's also in the camp, though he waved me off when I tried to talk to him. She's the one who makes the decisions for the family, who marched them out of a war zone, walking and actually sometimes running she said, to a town up north where things were safer. And when things there became untenable, she moved them again to Kurdistan where they lived for a while.

And finally they just decided to escape to Europe. They arrived in Greece by boat, thinking they were just passing through just here for a few days. The child she worries about most of her kids is Mohammad, Hammed, they call him. He's nearly eight. When the war began, they were near Aleppo. Hammed was the child who reacted the worst to the bombing, and the snipers, and the shelling, which were constant for days sometimes.

Aziza Bashar

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

But the longest we were under siege for was eight days.

Aziza Bashar

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

Meaning that the fighting was going on day and night, nonstop.

Ira Glass

Hammed was four. He was potty trained, but he started wetting the bed. And he hasn't stopped wetting the bed years later now. His siblings all play together, but he's always off on the side. He doesn't interact.

Aziza Bashar

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

When I took him to the doctor in Kurdistan, he told me he has developmental issues. They said your son is seven, but mentally he's four. He's stalled mentally. If you teach him anything, he doesn't remember it. If you ask him anything, he takes a long time to respond.

Ira Glass

She says before the war, he was developing normally. And in fact, getting stuck developmentally like this is one way that some children respond to trauma. What's your name?

Hammed

Hammed.

Ira Glass

Hammed? What do you think of life here at the camp?

Aziza Bashar

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Ira Glass

That's his mom prodding him.

Aziza Bashar

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Ira Glass

Like the other kids I met who were doing the worst, Hammed's big problem is fear. At first when they got to the camp, it was the snakes and the wild animals that he feared the most. But the family worked really hard on that, and now he's OK with the snakes. Next, it was the airplanes. And that became a family project. And now he's not so scared of the planes. Though the one thing they haven't been able to fix is his dreams. He dreams of bombings and shellings.

So how in the world did you get this fearful child onto a little raft from Turkey to Greece?

Aziza Bashar

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

He saw on TV before we left Kurdistan. He used to see the ocean in cartoons and say, "Mom, the water has sharks in it." And before we left, he saw in his dreams that a shark came up, the same as the cartoons, and he said, "It's gonna eat me. It's gonna eat me, and I'm gonna die."

I told him it's just a story. It's just cartoons. Don't be afraid. I told him this is something that's made up. It's not real. I always encouraged him. The ocean is really wonderful. It won't take long. Just two hours, and then you can go to school, and we're going to have a nice house.

Ira Glass

But then the first boat that they got on in February was kind of a disaster, and it really affected Hammed. It was supposed to be 35 people in a little rubber boat, but Aziza says that they packed on twice that many and didn't give out life vests. And people wanted to get off, and the smugglers pointed guns at them and said you have to go now. A few people told me stories like that.

They got a little ways out, and the boat started to deflate, and started to flip over, just capsized. And people screamed. It was terrifying. No life vests, remember. And Aziza's got a five-year-old, and a seven-year-old, and a nine-year-old with her. And the boat turned back.

OK, so after that, how in the world do you get your six kids onto a second boat? That requires some A level parenting moves, and Aziza was the one who had to get her kids onboard, literally onboard in this case. And mainly she painted a picture of the bright future they were going to have in Europe, and she pretended she knew that this new boat was going to be totally different. And they went again.

Aziza Bashar

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

Yeah, I was afraid more for my kids than for myself. Before we got on the boat, my son told me, you're the one who is deciding about our lives, whether it's the beginning or the end. And those words really affected me.

Ira Glass

When they got on the boat, she told Hammed, the seven-year-old, to sleep in her arms. He was so terrified he conked out immediately, missed the whole trip. Of course, here in the camp, her husband's with her too. And I asked, does he help with the children? She said, he wasn't any help with that back in Syria, and here, he's totally useless. She tries to get him to handle things, but it's like he's the seventh child that she's taking care of.

Aziza Bashar

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

It's had a toll on my mental health seeing my kids and their dad. And we argue a lot about the kids more than anything else. I tell him, you're not helping. You don't talk to the kids. You don't engage them. I always feel like you're detached. He says there's no point in talking to them. You talk to them, and what good has come of it?

Ira Glass

They also fight about money. He smokes, a pack or a pack and a half a day. And since they went on the run from Syria, she started smoking too, to deal with the stress, though way less than him, and in secret, so the kids don't see.

Interpreter

And this is one reason we fight. We're in a situation where we don't need these extra expenses.

Ira Glass

They got on the boat to Greece with 1,000 euros, which was enough for a few weeks on the road. Aziza laughed and said, I think we spent 950 of it on cigarettes.

Interpreter

Yeah, I just have 50 euros left.

Aziza Bashar

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Ira Glass

That Arabic expression she just used?

Aziza Bashar

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Ira Glass

My interpreter said that in this context, the best translation for it would be [BLEEP] my life. The other child that Aziza worries about the most is her 18-year-old, Ali. He's a great kid in lots of ways-- very sweet and encouraging with his little brother Hammed. Also he's incredibly skilled at building things for the family.

Aziza Bashar

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

This is all my son's work.

Ira Glass

This is Aziza showing us around her sister-in-law's tent, it was nuts. Every family was given a standard issue tent, and they built an outer courtyard with a fence, and there's an overhang so there's shade, and there's a table, and benches, and shelves made from wood that was scavenged from old shipping pallets. And then you go through a door, and there's a kind of mud room pantry with their food, and then another room with a bed for the kids, and shelves with neatly folded children's clothes, and a row of hooks for other clothes.

And it's all super cheerful. Everything's covered with brightly colored fabric. And then there's another entry, and it's the parents' bedroom with a full size bed and night table. My interpreter, Baraa, later described it the best.

BARAA: All I could think of was, OK, so you know in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when they all go to the Quidditch World Cup.

Ira Glass

Oh, Baraa's 23.

BARAA: And then everybody has tents. Everybody's sleeping in tents. But since they're magical tents, from the outside, they look like a regular camping thing. But when you go in, it's so many different rooms. There's a living room. There's a kitchen. So literally walking in, when they opened the door, I swear to God that's what it was like. It was insane what they built. It's crazy.

Ira Glass

Ali learned construction from his uncle, but then his aunt says the student became the master. He builds so he doesn't get bored in the camp. But being in the camp has spurred this very good kid into all kinds of behavior he never had before. He started smoking, secretly at first, but now he doesn't bother to hide it, which bothers Aziza. He talks back. He doesn't listen, which is normal for an 18-year-old, but new for him.

Aziza Bashar

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

It's like he doesn't care about what I think.

Aziza Bashar

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

I can't tell him what to do anymore. He gets really upset with me, because I promised him, you'll finally be able to relax. You can go to school.

Aziza Bashar

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

You can get the education you were denied in Syria.

Aziza Bashar

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

He keeps telling me, this is what you promised us? So this is our future? You made us take the sea and face death, and you brought us here to live like this?

Ira Glass

She tells Ali, you can't blame me for what's out of my control. For whatever reason, this is the life that God fated us to live right now. But it's not forever. And a lot of other people are going through the same thing. Ali says, he knows that's true, but it is hard not to get mad. He's got expressive, dark eyes, and a scruffy beard that is more peach fuzz than actual beard.

Ali

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

Because she promised us, she promised us that we'll have a better future in Europe. And now they're fixing the electricity here. That makes me think that we're staying more, and it's really depressing me.

Ira Glass

In fact, just the week I was there, the camp got big outdoor lights, and Wi-Fi, and a proper water supply. Which in a way was just upsetting. The air force colonel who put this camp together told me that they're building the place to last five years for these or other refugees.

Ali

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

I was like, what are we going to do here? It's obvious that we're going to stay here for a longer time now. What can I do? I'm doing nothing. I feel that my hands and my legs are just tied, and the days are passing, and passing, and there's nothing. Because of depression and stress, I just think that I'm going to explode sometimes from the situation that I'm living in.

Ira Glass

Mainly, he really, really wants to go to school. He hasn't been in four years. And his 16-year-old brother, Fadi, he's feeling all the same resentments and frustrations he is. And their mom says sometimes the two boys will sleep till 2:00 in the afternoon. And she'll try to wake them, and they get upset with her. And they say, well, why should we get up? We don't have anything to do. We don't have school. We'd rather not wake up and see where we live. We'd rather just sleep.

Aziza says being here in this weird, suspended animation where their lives aren't moving forward at all, where her boys feel like life is passing them by, and they're never going to get to go to school and catch up to where they should be, she told me she is really just at the end of her rope. In Arabic, there's this saying she used, it's like your soul is tired. It's worn out. And she's questioning herself.

Aziza Bashar

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

I've done everything I could. I got them here, but it's not in my control to do anything else. I feel like we committed a crime, but I don't know what crime we did.

Ira Glass

Sometimes, during these conversations it was hard not to think about how the rest of the world sees Aziza and her family. These are the most hated people in Europe, right? These are the refugees whose possible immigration was a big reason that Britain pulled out of the EU, whose existence has led to the rise of xenophobic parties from Germany to Denmark. These are the Muslims we talk about blocking from our own borders.

Aziza says she can't go back. Her old house doesn't exist. Her whole family has left Syria. There's nothing for them there. Not long ago, Aziza was missing her own mother, and feeling really sad about that. And the kids noticed, and they told her, we're there for you. And they said, if we could do anything to make you happy, and they tried to cheer her up, and they made little jokes, and little funny moves, which was really sweet, and she loved it.

And they would try to take care of her in the way that she tries to take care of them. At the same time, she felt like, oh, it's come to this? That they're taking care of her? It's like these days when she tells them, they're still going to have a bright future. They just need to hold on. She see's them nod, like they're humoring her, pretending to agree, just to make her feel better. That does not seem good to her, she said. It doesn't seem ideal at all.

Coming up. So for your new life to begin, all you need is for somebody to pick up the phone when you call. And you try, and try again, and try again, and they just do not answer. That's in a minute, from Chicago Public Radio when our program continues.

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our program, are we there yet? Stories of people whose lives are on hold in refugee camps in Greece. So an incredible team has put together an interactive tour of the camps that we visited, with little movies, and photos, and three dimensional architectural renderings created by a group of architects and engineers, Jai Mexis & Partners. Every time they show this to me, I just kind of stare at it and wonder. It's amazing. It's at our website, thisamericanlife.org.

Act Three: All Our Representatives Are Currently Busy

Ira Glass

We've arrived at Act 3 of our program, Act 3. All our representatives are currently busy.

So the first step for any refugee to leave the refugee camp limbo that they're in in Greece and get relocated elsewhere in Europe, is that they need official asylum papers from Greece. And the problem is, there are too many refugees for the government office that handles this to process quickly. And fearing a situation where just like hundreds of refugees would line up every day at their office door, the asylum office in Greece set up a way for people to make appointments for their interview and their paperwork.

Basically, they set up a system where people could call the office on Skype. And just a word here. If you don't know what Skype is, it's like an internet phone call, like Face Time. People have it on their phones. You can call without the video also. And the asylum office made a schedule of when people could call. So for instance, people who speak Arabic got from 10:00 to noon on Mondays and 10:00 to 11:00 on Tuesdays some weeks. Dari and Farsi speakers got an hour Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday.

And making the appointment is important, because once you have the appointment, you get access to health care, and you get a temporary permit to stay in Greece for a year. If you don't have that, they can arrest you. One of our reporters, Miki Meek, went to watch refugees make these Skype calls in Athens. This was six weeks ago.

Turns out, when it comes to pre-registering for asylum, like the cops say on American TV shows, you can do it the easy way, or you can do it the hard way. Here's Miki.

Miki Meek

Tens of thousands of people were in this weird situation where their entire futures were dependent on getting through on a Skype call, and they were not getting through. So they re-dialed again, and again, and again. People had been stuck doing this for months from their cell phones.

Hassan Haidari

[SPEAKING DARI]

Interpreter

I've been trying probably more than 500 times.

Miki Meek

This is Hassan Haidari, 22-years-old, and from Afghanistan. He told me he left after his parents got blown up by a roadside bomb, like they couldn't find remains to bury, like they were evaporated. And he got attacked by the Taliban. Hassan was sitting next to a guy who pulled out his phone to show me his Skype history. His first call to the Greek asylum office was back in March.

Miki Meek

You're just scrolling through. How many times have you tried to call?

Hassan Haidari

[SPEAKING DARI]

Miki Meek

He says almost 1,000 times. It just says, call, no answer. Call, no answer. Call, no answer. Call failed. And it just keeps going on and on like this. So that's the hard way to do these Skype calls. The easy way, it really isn't much easier. You go to an NGO's office, and you use their Skype account to call in. It's easier because your odds go up.

The government asylum office prioritizes calls from NGOs over random Skype callers, which is why Hassan is at the rundown office of an NGO called the Greek Forum of Refugees. He's sitting cross-legged on the ground. It's Wednesday, and Dari speakers like him get an hour, from noon to 1:00, to Skype the asylum office.

Miki Meek

This is someone just coming over to help them start it. Let's see, what time is it right now? All right. So they're trying.

[DIALING]

Hassan's sitting in front of an old laptop with a friend who brought him here, Awaaz. And it's Awaaz who grabs the mouse to reconnect.

Awaaz

[SPEAKING DARI]

Miki Meek

He says he came to this office over and over for weeks, 15 different times before he finally got through. So he knows the drill. So now they're still trying. So let's see. Let's count how many seconds. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and it dropped. I mean, does this mean that you spent 15 hours of just letting it ringing and drop?

Hassan Haidari

[SPEAKING DARI]

Interpreter

Yes, I would keep trying, and keep trying, hoping that the Skype call will go through, and then nothing will happen. Then after a while, you start to feel really desperate.

Miki Meek

Hassan says most every Afghan he knows has memorized the Skype schedule for the asylum office.

Hassan Haidari

[SPEAKING DARI]

Interpreter

There are literally thousands of people trying at the same time right now.

[SKYPE SOUNDS]

Miki Meek

That's the sound of it dropping. Re-dialing. Every time their call drops, they scramble for the mouse. It's like playing a very repetitious video game, an incredibly boring one, with very high stakes. 25 deadening minutes pass this way. And then-- you just got through.

Interpreter

[SPEAKING DARI]

Miki Meek

The asylum office picks up. A woman speaks to Hassan through an interpreter. She can see him through the computer camera, but he can't see her. She tells him--

Interpreter

Sit back straight.

Miki Meek

Then she takes this photo, and starts to put together his file.

Interpreter

What your name?

Miki Meek

She takes down all his bio information, then tells him to write down five numbers.

Interpreter

Please, write down this code. 18-572. That's your registration number.

Miki Meek

Hassan's appointment at the asylum office would be in three weeks.

Interpreter

All right. Thank you. Bye.

Miki Meek

Wait, sit down. Come here.

Interpreter

I'm very, very happy. I'm very happy.

Miki Meek

Hassan jumps out of his chair, and pumps his fists in the air. Awaaz is smiling in disbelief.

Interpreter

It's crazy that I've coming here for 15 days. I cried so much. And he's so lucky. He just got it on the first day.

Miki Meek

Hassan reaches over, and grabs Awaaz by the chin.

Interpreter

I feel like-- my friend, I'm so-- I like this guy a lot. I want to kiss him on the cheek and thank him for bringing me here, and just because it just worked on the first day, on the first call.

Miki Meek

I mean, you should go for it. Just kiss him on the cheek.

Hassan Haidari

[SPEAKING DARI]

[KISSING SOUND]

Miki Meek

He just patted his head. At 1 o'clock, the Afghans leave, and the Syrians arrive. There are so many more Syrian refugees in Greece that they get two hours, not one. And they occupy every available space outside the office door. Kids sleep on garbage bags their parents have placed on the floor. Men sit shoulder to shoulder in the stairwell. That's what the Skype app sounds like when a roomful of people have it on speakerphone.

A guy named Mohammed Al Shahani holds his phone out to show me. Mohammed's 21 years old. He's from a bombed out city in northern Syria called Idlib.

Miki Meek

That sound, it must drive you crazy.

Mohammad Al Shahani

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

I hear it all the time. It's ingrained in my brain, the Skype ring tone over and over again.

Mohammad Al Shahani

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

I mean, we hear it while we're sleeping. It just plays and plays, even in your dreams.

Mohammad Al Shahani

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

But we're still hoping for the best. God willing, we'll get through.

Miki Meek

He's here at the office with his family-- mom, dad, and siblings. There are eight of them in total. They're living in tents they've pitched on pavement at a cruise ship terminal. It takes an hour and a half to get here.

Mohammad Al Shahani

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

I feel like if we don't-- if nobody picks up today, we're just going to be done. We're not coming back. Because it's so hard for us to come. We have young kids, and we have our wives with us. And just for us to get here, you have to take a train, and then you walk 10 kilometers.

Miki Meek

Mohammad's serious. He's done with these Skype sessions, which will not go down so well with his dad, Rajab. It's his dad who's made everyone start walking at 6:00 AM three times a week for the past three months. He wants to make sure they're first in line to use the laptop. Because if they're not, they'll probably sit in the hallway the whole time and never get on. But all this has made things pretty tense. Here's Rajab.

Rajab

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

Because they're so tired of coming every day, you know? We come, and we go. We keep going back and forth. They're so tired. They're tired of it.

Rajab

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

This is it. This is all we do. That's it. I live my life based on these time slots.

Miki Meek

OK, so just it just dropped again. We gotta call again? Hold on. The theory in this office is that it takes so long to get through because there aren't that many operators answering the Skype calls.

Rajab

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Miki Meek

An NGO employee next to Rajab says it might be just one or two. He's been sitting in on these calls for months. I didn't believe that could possibly be true. One or two people for all the thousands of Syrians needing asylum appointments? Then Joanna, the NPR reporter we worked with on the show, went and visited the asylum office.

Joanna

It does sound incredible. The asylum office has over 350 employees, and this is the biggest thing they're working on. But it's true. The number of people manning the Skype line for all of Greece is exactly one. Her name is Katerina Maliotaki, lifetime civil servant, a big personality with black hair she's dyed bright red. She keeps a stuffed Kermit the Frog doll next to her computer that she squeezes when she gets stressed.

Katerina Maliotake

[SPEAKING GREEK]

Interpreter

Hello, sir. How are you? Good morning. What country are you from? Great. Thank you.

Joanna

Katerina sits in a tiny, little office where she can barely move, with an interpreter that's right next to her.

Katerina Maliotake

[SPEAKING GREEK]

Interpreter

I take one call after another without leaving even half a minute gap in between. Without taking a breath, my hand automatically grabs the mouse. We can't waste any time, because as we know, there are tens of thousands of refugees. Everyone is waiting on you to answer the call, and you know that you can't possibly answer all of them.

Miki Meek

She picks up a call from a Syrian woman. She's in a little square on the right hand side of the screen, wearing a peach headscarf.

Katerina Maliotake

[SPEAKING GREEK]

Joanna

She tells her hello. Every time Katerina answers a call, she sits up straight and smiles, even though the refugees can't see her from their end.

Katerina Maliotake

[SPEAKING GREEK]

Joanna

She tells her to look at the camera. Bravo. Wonderful. Thank you. The entire time she's processing the woman and her kids, the left side of Katerina's screen is filling up with a long line of flashing calls. Katerina estimates in a regular workday, with calls in Farsi, Dari, French, Arabic, English, she'll only register about 100 people, maybe 12 an hour. That's the best she can do.

So why is she the only one doing this job? Well, Greece is broke. The entire government has been on austerity for six years. There's no money to hire anyone else, and this agency is just three years old. It was never meant to handle such a big workload. The director told me they'd need to hire more than 1,000 people just to keep up.

She said, sure, they could move more people to taking Skype calls, but that would just cut the number of people processing asylum applications. One way or another, it's going to be very, very slow. Katerina says sometimes refugees yell at her when she finally picks up their call. They want to know, why have I been calling for months?

I mean, what's it like knowing that thousands of people are trying to reach you, and you can only pick up a few calls at a time?

Katerina Maliotake

[SPEAKING GREEK]

Interpreter

It feels heavy and worrisome for us. Because you do as much as you can, with all of your heart, your strength, your expertise. But whatever you do, even in doing your best, will always be just a drop in the ocean. So this big disappointment does come over us. Because no one is satisfied.

Joanna

Katerina told me she read a news article about a Syrian man who dreamed all night about Skype. She switches to English to explain.

Katerina Maliotaki

He was saying that every night he's dreaming. I'm trying to sleep, and I see in my dreams that I'm calling on Skype. And really, I wanted to tell him that, oh my friend, I have the same problem. Really.

Miki Meek

So we're back at the NGO office. It's 3:55. The session ends at 4:00. My interpreter and I are the only ones in the room who feel any suspense about whether the people here will get through. Rajab, the dad who dragged his whole family here, he just looks tired. He sits on a plastic lawn chair, staring at the computer screen. Hassan Mohammed, who told me if you don't get through today, he's never coming back, he's off in the waiting room, robotically re-dialing on Skype.

Hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry. Two more minutes. Two more minutes.

An NGO employee says to no one in particular, "moment of silence for the lost souls on Skype about to die." They haven't picked up. The time's up.

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

I mean, that's it. We're done for the day. I mean, we're done.

Miki Meek

I leave the room to check in with Rajab's son, Mohammed, who's still out in the now empty hallway.

Mohammed

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

The entire time from 2:00 to 4:00, there is hope. Everybody's still holding on. No one wants to go on. But once that clock strikes 4:00, that's when everybody leaves. They literally, they hate everything. They hate themselves. They hate this world. They hate their kids. Like, they hate everything.

Miki Meek

Does your dad know that you're not going to come back?

Mohammed

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

No, no. He doesn't. He doesn't know I don't want to come back.

Miki Meek

When are you going to tell your dad? Are you going to tell him today, or are you going to wait until he comes back for an appointment next week that you're not coming?

Mohammed

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

No, I'm not going to tell him at all.

Miki Meek

Not going to show up next week?

Mohammed

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

I can't keep coming back. I'm done. That's it. I just want to go back to Syria. I just want to-- I just want to leave and smuggle myself back to Syria. I don't want to tell him.

Miki Meek

He didn't go back to Syria. The next week, he got up, started walking to the train station at 6:00 AM, and came back to the office early enough to be first in line again.

Ira Glass

Miki Meek. So because those Skype calls have been criticized, in the time since Miki recorded those people who were calling in, the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has started going to camps with the Greek government to pre-register hundreds of people at a time in person, so they don't have to use Skype. And they've done tons of people this way, over 25,000 people.

But the problem is, these people were told when they do this, OK, you're pre-registered for asylum, but they weren't given an actual appointment. Like, they weren't given a date to come in to be interviewed and start the asylum process. An NGO staffer told us that the government tells the refugees that they'll be texted sometime in the coming year with a date. And then after that, the asylum process itself, that they're just applying for, right? That itself can take months.

But that's just the delay that all these people face with the local bureaucracy in Greece. The next problem they have is, although the rest of Europe has officially agreed to let in these 57,000 people into their countries, they're not doing it. Only 2,681 have been relocated out of 57,000. It's totally stalled. Apparently, the politics for any country to allow in refugees right now is too delicate to let these people in.

Dimitris Vitsas, who's in charge of coordinating the refugee crisis in Greece, he's the Deputy Ministry of Defense, he told me that Greece understands that these 57,000 people may not be going anywhere for a very long time. And when they finally do leave, given the situation in the world, others are probably going to show up to replace them.

Dimitris Vitsas

[SPEAKING GREEK]

Interpreter

Our goal is to have ready over 60,000 places where we can host refugees and migrants in central Greece--

Dimitris Vitsas

[SPEAKING GREEK]

Interpreter

Indefinitely moving forward for the coming years.

Ira Glass

Indefinitely. Now, short term, they hope to get 2/3 of the refugees, 40,000 people, out of tents and into little trailers that they call "iso boxes," which have AC, and heat, and proper kitchens, and showers, and bathrooms. And they hope to do that by September, or anyway before winter. They have money for this provided by the rest of Europe.

The other roughly 20,000 refugees--

[SPEAKING GREEK]

Interpreter

Our goal is to have 20,000 people in houses and apartments by the end of September.

Ira Glass

This is not only better for the refugees than living in the camps, it's great for the Greeks, because it puts money into the hands of Greek citizens. Basically, other European countries will pay Greek property owners to fix up and rent out rooms, and apartments, and houses to the refugees. The Greeks are also hoping to set up schools for refugee children by the end of September. I did talk to officials from the International Rescue Committee and UNHCR, and they applauded these ambitions, but they were deeply skeptical that Greece would actually make the goals for such large numbers of refugees.

But this whole plan that Greece is preparing for tens of thousands of refugees to be there for a long, long time? The refugees don't know it. People we met in the camps really had no idea, and they're trying to move ahead with parts of their lives, whatever they can. And in fact, next week on our show, we have stories of people trying to do that, like this couple that met and fell in love, even though they were not expecting anything like that to happen to them while en route from one country to another. And even though her family did not approve and tried to keep them apart, the guy in the couple was undeterred.

Man

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

I love her very much, and those people won't stand in our way. And our love is stronger than this country that's blocking the border.

Ira Glass

That's next week on our program.

[MUSIC - THE GORIES, "STRANDED"]