ECHO Refugee Library


the context

From 2016 to 2021

After the closing of the Greece-FYROM border in March 2016, over 50,000 asylum seekers remained in Greece, waiting to have their asylum claims heard and processed.


ECHO was begun by four individuals who spent time volunteering in EKO, an informal refugee camp built upon a petrol station 20kms south of the Greece-FYROM border, in the spring of 2016. It did not take long for us to be completely taken by the warm hospitality and perseverance of the roughly 2000 residents of the camp. 

Beyond the incredible stories, the boisterous children, and the defiant smiles we encountered, there were two things about EKO which struck us above all else: the hunger for knowledge, and the infectious spirit of community.

Despite a need for the most basic things – water, food, shelter, clothing – we witnessed a far stronger desire to learn, and to put time and skills to use. In the face of seemingly endless struggle and daunting uncertainty, we saw how the spirit of community conquered suffering with dance circles, shared meals, and the common hope of completing their journey to a new, safe, life. Inspired by this, we established ECHO.

The number of undocumented migrants, families, individuals escaping war, famine, deadly and corrupt regimes fleeing to Europe is continuously rising. Not all will have the opportunity to leave Greece and be relocated to Europe – most are waiting in limbo, hoping for their status to be recognised and for any opportunity on which to build a future.

In the midst of uncertainty and waiting, the task of ‘filling time’ must become that of ‘using time’.

These are individuals hungry for action, for work, for education – most are former students, skilled workers, and professionals whose lives have been violently uprooted.

We hope to provide them with the know-how they need to carry their experience and knowledge into the next stage of their journeys.

Their lives are at a standstill; they need not be.


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The mobile library

It all began with a sketch, drawn on an envelope form our static library in the EKO camp. We thought that if we could get the library into a van, then we could bring the service to so many more people who needed it.


The amazing Keoma Zec made it happen. He found a van in the UK and then travelled 2,800 kilometres to Greece, where we transformed it into a mobile library. By October 2016, we were mobile. We were soon servicing 7 camps in the Thessaloniki area. 

In January 2017, a bitter winter hit the north of Greece, making living conditions in the camps even more dismal than before. Many camps were closed down and residents moved into alternative accommodation, scattering the population we were working with all throughout the country.

We spent a few uncertain months continuing our work in Northern Greece, teaching 8 English classes for youth and adults a week and bringing the library to new locations in Polikastro and the Thessaloniki region. As many refugees were moved down to Athens for the next step of their asylum process, we made a decision to switch regions and move south.

In May 2017, the mobile library moved its operations to Athens, working in inner city locations as well as the camps. This would continue to be our model right into 2021.


ECHO today

2020 was a difficult year for many here. The start of March has witnessed unprecedented violence on the borders of Europe and impossible pressure on Greece’s islands. The Greek government suspended the right to claim asylum for all new arrivals and have been participating in illegal pushbacks, civil society actors allege. As of December 2020 there were almost about 120,000 registered asylum seekers in Greece, with 100,000 of them on the mainland. From our experience on the ground, the number is likely to be much higher, due to the many obstacles people face in order to register for asylum here.

The Greek ministry of interior increased its rate of transfers from the horrendously overcrowded conditions on the islands to try and relieve the situation there. The problem is that the conditions on the mainland are not much better, with small tents reappearing and spaces not meant for accommodation being used as overflow in the longterm. These peripheral camps are isolated from Greek society, with limited or non existent public transport to connect to Athens where most services are located. These camps are not fit for human habitation and we recognise that it is simply political will that keeps them in existence, not necessity.

For up to date and compassionate information about the refugee situation in the Mediterranean region and Europe, check out Are You Syrious digests.




In Greece, serious social distancing measures were put into place to protect everyone on Wednesday 11th March when all educational facilities were ordered to close. All non-essential shops and services closed, including our library. Social distancing has helped slow the spread of the virus and Greece has seen some of the lowest infection rates on the continent as a result.

 However, some have noted that the most vulnerable in Greece were not so well protected. The camps remain overcrowded meaning that the governments’ own rules on social distancing are impossible to practice. Covid-19 reached the refugee camps in early April with cases in Ritsona camp and Malakasa, where we were running sessions until the crisis hit.

WHAT ECHO is doing

 At ECHO, we collaborated with our comrades in the grassroots community here in Athens to provide mutual aid to vulnerable people. This has included deliveries from the Khora Community Kitchen – translating the orders from our diverse community and using Gary to get the food to the people that need it around the city. The ECHO mobile library became the ECHO food-truck! You can read more here.

We also worked with Pamperaki warehouse to deliver donations of non-food items to Malakasa, one of the camps in lockdown. Some of our regular users were amazed to see our shelves piled with soap! See our May blog post for more.

We have also been preparing our new library van, developing our language-learning resources and overall doing our best to support others in our network to provide the best holistic support that we can from a perspective of solidarity, not charity.


ECHO resumed sessions in June 2020 following the easing of lockdown. We ran sessions following new guidelines to ensure the safety of our library users and volunteers. We wear masks, as one of our younger readers creatively illustrated in the above image). We have hand sanitiser available at all times, keep physical contact to elbow bumps and limit the number of people entering the van to browse the shelves. Our readers have been understanding and if anything, limiting the number of people inside the van leaves us more time for a chat while waiting. 

However, for many of our readers the end of lockdown provides no moment of release or return to a tweaked ‘normality’. If anything, conditions at Malakasa, for example, have become worse and more over-crowded; likely a result of the Greek government’s evictions of island camps.

You can read more detailed accounts of our journey on our blog, and stay up-to-date with our daily life through our social media (@refugee library).