The truth may be bitter, but it must be told
– Written on a wall of a detention centre in Lesvos
[The following is based on reports by many people and organizations in Greece.]
It has been around a year and a half now since the first attempt of the state to demolish the self-made Afghani refugee camp in Patras, which was prevented due to a vast and eminent solidarity movement. Nevertheless, the public authorities struck back and eventually succeeded to fulfil their initial plan on the dawn of Sunday 12th of July. This action can be only described as part of a major concrete plan of "zero tolerance" designed and declared by Markoyannakis, the Minister of Public Order of Greece.
The operation was initially planned to take place the night before, yet it was decided to postpone for a day in order for riot police reinforcements to arrive from Athens. At around 3.30 a.m. on Sunday numerous riot police forces swamped the whole area surrounding the refugee camp. By 5 a.m. they had already blocked every street leading to the camp inducing a climate of terror in the area. Only 150 immigrants were still there, by that point knowingly unable to defend themselves and their vestige shelter after weeks of continuous repression, arrests and terror deriving from the state. Some managed to flee the camp only moments before getting arrested and the rest were indulged to the hands of the authorities. The camp was unreachable for the protestors outside and the few who were already inside in solidarity got arrested and were released only after the operation was complete. The obvious reason for these arrests was to have no witnesses of the imminent villainous scenes of state-induced horror.
Immediately after the arrests and the removal of the immigrants on police buses, the demolition of the camp started before a huge fire erupted, burning any ruins of sheds and personal belongings. Nothing should be left to remind us that there used to be a refuge for thousands of immigrants and refugees throughout the years, desperate to seek survival and a dignified life in the European Fortress.
At the same time, at the other side of the port of Patras, another operation was taking place targeting mainly Somalian and Arab immigrants, which resulted to a horrific manhunt at the centre of Patras.
The Afghani self-made refugee camp that used to be located in the city of Patras until some days ago is one of the numerous similar camps around that region and also all over Greece. It used to host many immigrants and war refugees coming mostly from Afghanistan but also from Iran and Pakistan. The number of the people living there cannot be precisely defined since most of its inhabitants used it as a starting point on their effort to make an undocumented travel to a country of Northern European Union via Italy and under life-threatening conditions. Or at least they hope to. Mostly during the summer period, the number of people at the camp peaked at 1.500 or so, but was reduced after some time since many who used to stay there either successfully escaped to Italy, or died out of starvation or contagious diseases or finally, were arrested, detained or deported.
Greece cannot be described exactly as a friendly country for immigrants. Asylum seekers are being sent back to Greece from Germany and other European countries without their applications for asylum having been thoroughly examined. Greece then in turn takes responsibility either for the hosting or the deportation of these immigrants – more often than not, of course, the case is the latter. The legal basis for this is the European Dublin II Regulation under which the state through which the asylum seeker entered European territory is responsible for processing the asylum claim. For a large number of people, particularly those from Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Somalia, the escape route leads them across the Aegean into Greece.
There are two main routes into Greece from Turkey: one is across the Turkish-Greek land border in the northeast of the country, in the Evros river region. Many immigrants and refugees get killed when stepping on landmines in this region or simply suffocating in the trucks that are used for carrying them in the mainland by the mafia smugglers. The other route lies via the Eastern edge of the Mediterranean: refugees attempt to reach one of the Greek islands situated only a few kilometres away from the Turkish mainland. The islands in the North Aegean, particularly those of Chios, Samos and Lesbos are important points of entry to the E.U. for arrival by sea. Again, many of those immigrants and refugees get killed either by the coastguard who shoots them inconsiderately or get drown due to the overweight self-made dinghies that carry them. 181 people were killed in 2008 on their effort to cross the borders of Greece, while the total number across Fortress Europe reached 1.502 during this year. However, there are concerns about the possibility of these numbers not being whole, since these are only the deaths reported and published by the press.
Huge concerns are also focused on reports from asylum seekers who, during hearings in Germany, state that whilst in Greece, they were given no opportunity to file an asylum claim in accordance with the requirements of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Furthermore, the numbers of refugees reporting maltreatment by the Greek coastguard has increased during the past few years. Nonetheless, the Prime Minister of Greece recently proposed the strengthening the European Frontier Control Agency (Frontex) along with a European coast guard to improve maritime surveillance.
It is hard also for someone to describe the horrible conditions under which people were living at the Patras camp. Being cordoned off 24/7 by the police in order not to get out, they would have to sneak out to get food of some kind. Moreover, the infrastructure of the camp was entirely insufficient, with just a few makeshift sheds and packed people struggling to survive inside and no water supply or sanitation. The attempt by some activists in late May to build a water system was sabotaged only some days after having been completed. The continuous growth of the movement in solidarity with the refugees reached its peak in September 2008 when a No Borders Camp was organised in the area around the camp and with the active participation of the refugees, not only for the discussions but also in vibrantly demonstrating in the centre of the city.
The camp was located in an upmarket area of Patras, surrounded by buildings some of which were half-constructed since the contractors were afraid that they wouldn’t be able to sell their properties due to the "hideous image" of the camp. The propaganda of the mainstream media, especially local ones, against the camp and generally against immigration had been harsh and continuous. Newspaper headlines the day after the demolition are significant: "It was about time to demolish this disgrace!", "The abscess is finally gone" and many more. Furthermore, a large portion of the local community of Patras had always been hostile towards the refugee camp, scaling even to organise a petition against it, without realising the terrible consequences of potential deportations or tortures by the police after the immigrants would be arrested.
After the demolition of the refugee camp, the city of Patras came back to normal: Business as usual. The contractors are free now to continue building their hideous enormous buildings, the mayor has fulfilled his pre-election declarations, the political parties can influence public opinion without having the inconvenient debate on the "huge problem of the refugees" and of course the police are getting more confident for their achievements. The port of Patras looks like a fortress, overwhelmed by CCTV cameras and coastguard, creating an unattractive alternative for any immigrant or refugee to use the city as a gate for freedom to a country of the Northern European Union.
So now that the city got decontaminated by the "dangerous disease of the refugees" who is next?
The answer to this question is quite obvious: any voice of resistance should be silenced. The government has declared for quite some time its intention to suppress every dissenting voice, targeting mainly the movement of resistance. Using the dogma of "zero tolerance" even more repressive regulations are being unleashed, criminalising occupied social centres, introducing special laws with which wearing a hood during a demo is considered to be a felony. At the same time, there is also an attempt to create a tremendous database with DNA samples and fingerprints along with installing as many CCTV cameras as possible across urban areas. The Minister of Public Order was clear when proclaiming: "first we’ll go for the immigrants and then for the anarchists".
Consequently, the State of Security strikes back. Following Berlusconi’s example, coordinating superbly with all the extreme right groups, including the nazist "Golden Dawn" there has been a totalitarian scheme continuously for the past few months including beating up or even shooting immigrants on the streets of Athens, blocking the entrance of public playgrounds for the children of immigrants… In response to this latest move, big clashes with the police and fascists from one side and active citizens from the other erupted in a central Athens neighbourhood some weeks ago. The police seem more determined than ever, with the support of their nazi collaborators, to deport, arrest, humiliate publicly and torture immigrants and most recently, to ban and try to block an antiracist demo in Athens, throwing molotovs and bricks towards unarmed protestors.
Yet not only does the State of Security strike back: So does the movement. The political legacy that is in the hands of the society after December’s revolt is enormous and ample. The most important lesson that had to be taught was that the movement should be effective and drastic under any circumstances. And the only way of being effective is, apart from unifying for common causes, to have widespread local assemblies organised by the citizens following the principles of self-management and direct democracy. There have been many such initiatives so far (most of them successful) for reclaiming public spaces, abandoned green spaces or empty military camps that were planned to be used as private parking lots or other private settlements intending to raise the profits of the state and the bosses.
In addition to this, the political legacy of December has also affected the workers’ movement. The workers who lost their jobs due to their strike during December in solidarity with the protestors have been embraced by the movement and continue their self-organised struggles. Apart from this, the autonomous unions are gradually gaining more support. Finally, there are ongoing grass roots struggles against the privatisation of public services.
It takes more than repression and terror laws to restrain a movement that is growing gradually bigger and more effective. A movement that, especially now, does not work for those suffering but along with them. Not for the society but with the society. A movement that has repeatedly proven to remain unaffected by the image imposed by the mainstream media about some imaginary "public opinion" but expresses what the real public opinion is on the streets and on their daily lives. Even if they manage to shut one mouth, thousands of other mouths will be opened.