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Friday, April 23, 2021

Standing in the shadows of a refugee camp for the first time

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One evening, nearly a year ago, I moved into a quarter-vacant building that was being turned into an American refugee camp, and as the camera swept across the dark interior — the cubicles, the uniforms, the advertisements — it dawned on me that I could spend years there.

Read more about Caroline Heller’s first job: a journalism internship with The New York Times and its predecessor, The Boston Globe.

The camp, set up on the outskirts of Athens, is intended to house around 120 refugees (mostly from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria) until they can be resettled or they are deemed ineligible for government assistance. Right now, only a handful of refugees are there, and many of them are men, so the space doesn’t look much like a United Nations refugee camp, but much more like a place where the hopeful lost souls would ostensibly spend the next few years, polishing their English, improving their aim and, more importantly, earning their way to the comfortable American life that waits for them somewhere else.

From the doorway of my fourth-floor office, I watch the refugees file back and forth through the building. I look at the screen shot from time to time to check on their progression through the blue-and-white doors into the next room, their brief daily increments of an American life progressing as painstakingly as an MRI scan. But until the camp opens for its fifth year, I’m not sure when those glimpses of the future will fade.

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