The Oak Institute for Human Rights is proud to announce the 2020 Oak Human Rights Fellow: Nasim Lomani, a human rights defender and migrants’ rights activist, who has been working in Greece and across the EU for over a decade, will join the Colby community this fall.
As a then 16-year-old Afghanistani, Lomani left for Greece nearly two decades ago. Upon arrival, he was arrested and charged with illegal crossing of the Greek border, ultimately serving a two-year prison sentence. During the process of appealing to the court for having his rights as a refugee abused and violated, he learned about the bureaucratic difficulties that all migrants face while trying to enter 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 involved lawyers, human rights defenders, as well as refugees and migrants.
“Black people and migrants at the U.S. border endure many similar experiences, as they are massively incarcerated, shamefully abused, and constantly have their human rights infringed,” said Valérie Dionne, director of the Oak Institute for Human Rights and associate professor of French. “Lomani’s story is one that resonates very powerfully with what is happening in the U.S. currently. As people across the U.S. are crying out for change, Lomani’s experience and expertise in turning conviction into action will serve as valuable resources for Colby and the wider community beyond campus.”
In Greece, Lomani, together with others in solidarity, 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 half years, it welcomed 3,000 people, lodging up to 400 at a time.
The story of City Plaza is known as an example of self-organization, self-management, and everyday processes to help empower refugees. In essence, it was a political statement against Europe’s use of militarized borders, repression, and systematic violation of human rights and refugees’ rights.
Lomani was also involved in organizing the largest NoBorder refugee and migrant solidarity camp to date, leading to the closure of the Pagani Detention Center on Lesvos island in 2009.
Lomani is at 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 the 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 housing sites for refugees and asylum seekers and to increasing arrests and trials of activists on the ground.
Lomani has been active in the human rights field since he was a child, so the Oak Fellowship will come as a much-needed respite. As the 2020 Oak Fellow, he hopes to teach students at Colby about the Balkan Route, solidarity organizing, and anti-racist politics. In addition, he hopes to learn about and get involved with border and human rights at the U.S. level.
Established in 1997 by a generous grant from the Oak Foundation, the Oak Institute for Human Rights hosts an Oak Human Rights Fellow each year. The fellowship offers an opportunity to spend the fall semester in residence at Colby, where they teach, conduct research, and raise awareness about important global human rights issues.