2017 Explanatory Reporting, Small Newsroom finalist

The Refugee Archipelago

The Inside Story of What Went Wrong in Greece

Daniel Howden, Apostolis Fotiadis

News Deeply

Explanatory Reporting, Small Newsroom


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About the Project

Soon after refugees began flowing into Greece in June 2015, photographs of drowned Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi – extraordinary, powerful and graphic – awakened the world to the refugee crisis and tipped the humanitarian complex toward Greece.

An unprecedented number of international volunteers descended on the country, the U.N. refugee agency declared an emergency, and the European Union deployed its own humanitarian response unit inside Europe for the first time.

It became the most expensive humanitarian response in history.

One year later, pictures of refugees shivering in tents in the snow painfully illustrated the epic scale of failure, waste and mismanagement and prompted questions about how the resources were deployed and how the funds were spent.

The enormity of the story, the number of international actors and funding sources and the sheer complexity of such a massive humanitarian response dissuaded most media outlets from investigating and identifying the key failures. But a two-person team from Refugees Deeply spent nearly three months painstakingly reconstructing what happened, using refugee testimony, original documents, confidential sources, diplomats and on-the-ground reporting from multiple locations.

The result was a rare account of the failures and missteps of a large scale humanitarian response and the deadly consequences that ensued.

Refugees Deeply believed readers would be drawn to an in-depth, compelling report that was given space to tell the definitive story of a crisis that had pricked European and global consciences. That commitment was rewarded with an overwhelming response.

The story was bought and republished by The Guardian. It broke the comparative silence of the Greek media and was followed up extensively by national print and television outlets, who widely quoted the report’s explanation of where the money went. The informational graphic that accompanied the story became a staple of nightly news broadcasts and prompted numerous follow-ups from local reporters.

The investigation was instrumental in the ongoing withdrawal of the E.U.’s humanitarian agency from Greek operations and a searching assessment of the conduct of humanitarian aid by the industry itself. It has prompted questions in the Greek parliament and helped inform the Greek Ombudsman’s report on the handling of the migration crisis which echoed the investigation’s main findings.

The title of the report – ‘The Refugee Archipelago’ – is recognized among migration policymakers as shorthand for the fragmented and chaotic dispersal of refugee populations.

‘The Quarterly, Greece: Between Deterrence and Integration,’ which followed the Archipelago investigation, broadened the lens to capture what was happening beyond the boundaries of housing, in the sectors of education and health.

The report has since been adopted by a number of practitioners and major think tanks as required reading for understanding the pitfalls and best practices of refugee integration.