She’s known by a family in Idomeni, in the north of Greece, as ‘Mama’, but they share no blood relation.
Panagiota Vasileiadou has been opening her home to refugees camped in a nearby field, providing them with home-cooked meals, giving them a place to shower and sharing a laugh along the way.
She also currently hosts five refugees, including three young children, and says in a video for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that despite not being able to properly communicate, she considers them her family.
“I have company in the house. I talk, we laugh. Although we don’t understand each other,” she says. Iraqi refugee and father Baraa explains that Panagiota, “made the kids happy and said you can come any time when she heard that their mother was dead.”
The 82-year-old grandmother is a child of refugees herself after her parents fled to Greece during the 1919-1922 Greco-Turkish war.
She also knows all too well how tough it can be to lose your home after she lost hers in a fire during World War II. “We didn’t have a spoon, a fork, bread or clothes. The only thing we had were the nightgowns we were wearing,’ she says.
The world is currently facing a refugee crisis larger than that following the end of the Second World War.
This year alone, 153,332 have arrived in Greece with the Hellenic Coast Guard recording 132 deaths at sea and 24 people missing.
It is believed in excess of 10,000 refugees are currently living in camps surrounding the now closed Greek/Macedonian border, making Panagiota’s story a powerful one of kindness, hope and resilience.