“I also thought terrorists might kidnap me to use my knowledge of microelectronics for remote control weapons,” he said. When he spotted strange men in a car watching his house, they knew it was time to leave. “That was a bad time, really a very bad time,” he said. “We lost a lot of money, our passports, our papers and our dignity.” he said of their journey to Greece.
The couple arrived in Athens early in 2017 and moved into an apartment paid for by the Catholic charity Caritas. Their four children — Said Azim, then aged 18, Said Rahim, 16, Said Hakim, 8, and Sadaf, their only daughter, 5 — started school. Mrs. Karimi, a trained physiotherapist, found work for an N.G.O., helping new mothers. They were safe, and the family was almost a model of immigration success.
Except that Mr. Karimi could not find work, and the asylum process was slow and torturous. To make matters worse, gearing up to talk to immigration officials triggered past trauma. “Every time I talked with the lawyer, I cried,” Mr. Karimi said.
At his wife’s prompting, he sought counseling, also through Caritas, which he says was very helpful. “Building Athena was also helping me,” he said. “It’s good for me to busy myself. It helped me avoid psychological problems.”
While working on Athena, Mr. Karimi studied English and Greek, and eventually passed a European qualifying examination and is now recognized as an orthopedic technician. In 2018, the Karimis were finally accepted as refugees and granted Greek resident permits. And, in 2019, they received refugee travel documents in lieu of passports.
These days, he’s setting his sights on a license to make soft shoe soles and inserts. “This would allow me to treat refugees with minor disabilities, flat feet or hallux valgus toes, or people with diabetes who need soft soles,” he said.