The Oak Institute for Human Rights, established in 1997, annually brings a prominent human rights activist to campus every year. While in residence, the Oak Fellow gets a chance to reflect and recuperate, and to educate the Colby community about their work.
The 2020 Oak Human Rights Fellow is Nasim Lomani, a human rights defender and migrants’ rights activist working both in the field and at the political level in Greece and the greater EU for over a decade.
Lomani arrived in Greece nearly two decades ago as a 16-year-old from Afghanistan. Upon arrival, he was arrested and charged with illegal crossing of the Greek border, ultimately serving a two-year prison sentence. During the appeal process, he learned about the bureaucratic difficulties that all migrants face while on the move to Europe. He joined a number of solidarity groups, such as the Network for Social Support to Immigrants and Refugees and the Migrants’ Social Center in Athens, where he coordinated free language classes and the Athens Anti-racist Festival. He also engaged in solidarity work that included lawyers, human rights defenders, as well as refugees and migrants.
Lomani, together with other solidarians, founded and served as one of the key organizers of City Plaza – Refugees Accommodation Solidarity Space in Athens, where he organized daily life for migrants, managed media communication, coordinated international volunteers, and served as the public representative to researchers, students, and academics.
City Plaza, once one of the largest solidarity migrant accommodations in Athens, was an abandoned hotel in central Athens repurposed to offer migrants the right to live in dignity in the urban space with access to social, economic, and political rights. Lomani lived inside the now-closed City Plaza for the entirety of its existence. Over almost three and a half years, it welcomed 3,000 people, lodging up to 400 at a time.
Lomani faces increasing risk, as migration solidarity work and defending human rights in Greece, and Europe at large has been criminalized in recent years. Helping refugees and criticizing human rights violations by authorities is now a major offense by both national and European law. In Greece, this has led to large-scale evictions of refugees and asylum seekers from housing sites, and to increasing arrests and prosecutions of activists.
Lomani has been active in the human rights field since he was a child. The Oak Fellowship will offer some much-needed respite. As the 2020 Oak Fellow, he will teach students at Colby about the Balkan Route, solidarity organizing, and anti-racist politics.
Some of our additional events for the fall include co-hosting an international activist art exhibit known as Hostile Terrain 94, and inviting Maria Adriana Jasso, a human rights advocate based in San Diego, Calif., who works on migration and human rights issues concerning the U.S.-Mexico border.