Meet Greece’s Guardian Angel for Refugees


Why you should care

Because thousands of refugees are still stuck on Greece’s isolated islands.

The sound of screaming children woke Pothiti “Toula” Kitromilidi suddenly one night in October 2015. The hotel she runs on Chios, a sunbaked Greek island 4 miles from mainland Turkey, abuts a quiet, pebble-scattered beach. Walking toward the water, Kitromilidi came across a scene she’d revisit time and again in the years to come: a boatload of refugees scrambling desperately to make land. She fed and clothed them, housed them in her hotel. “They were hungry and wet,” she recalls, and what else could she do?

Around the same time, locals got together to hash out how to manage the donations flooding in from around the world. Visits by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and actors Susan Sarandon and Mandy Patinkin, among others, helped pivot the world’s attention to the crisis on the Greek islands. But the group went silent when the discussion fell to who would be the primary point of contact. “So, I raised my hand,” says Kitromilidi, 43. She figured “in one month it will be finished.” Little did she know.

Nearly three years on, the tide has ebbed. The stars and many nongovernmental organizations have moved on. But the humanitarian emergency remains. Kitromilidi’s work has shifted into a new phase as she wrestles with how to provide for thousands of people who are effectively trapped on the island. And tensions are rising.

It is two and a half years later and we are still in the same place. People are still living in tents in Vial.

Pothiti “Toula” Kitromilidi

When boatloads of terrified migrants reach Chios, Kitromilidi and volunteers from the Chios Eastern Shore Response Team (CESRT) are immediately on hand with dry clothes, tea, water, diapers and a welcome. It’s a big job. Almost 2 million refugees and migrants have flowed into Europe since 2014 in the largest movement of people since World War II. According to the U.N.’s refugee agency, 1.1 million people have entered Europe by landing on the shores of Greece’s Aegean Sea islands.


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