COMMUNITY

More than 2,500 refugees live in Athens squats

TANIA GEORGIOPOULOU

TAGS: Migration

In Athens, thousands of refugees and migrants remain in buildings occupied by so-called solidarity groups. The response property owners or their lawyers receive when they go to police stations in a bid to get the problem dealt with is that this is being tolerated for now as a “political decision.

The owners of the units that have been taken over are still receiving huge bills for utilities, plus the ENFIA property tax. It is not possible to check the living, hygiene or safety conditions of these locations and the refugees being hosted in them are living outside the system and legal framework which applies for the rest of the refugees that have ended up in Greece. No records are kept of who comes and goes. That worries area residents.

Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis says that according to the latest calculations made by the municipality, around 2,500 to 3,000 refugees and migrants are being housed in squats. Police sources say that number is actually smaller, adding that they are well aware of who has organized these occupations and who they're hosting. The decision of whether to intervene is not an easy one to make, despite the fact that the law is clearly being violated.

An operation to evacuate a Hellenic Red Cross building that was occupied took place 40 days after a complaint was lodged at the Omonia police station. In the meantime, the Red Cross had taken a series of legal actions, given that the building in question was undergoing work that was paid for with European Union funds for the development of a housing center for unaccompanied child refugees. After the eviction, the conditions inside the building were found to be quite squalid.

A few days after the eviction, another building owned by the Hellenic Red Cross, this one in Piraeus, was taken over by a solidarity group. Police sources say they are ready to evict the squatters, but for any such operation to be carried out, there must be a hosting center ready to transfer the refugees to. 

Just a few days before the eviction, the City of Athens had received a water bill for 15,484 euros for the building of the 5th High School on Prassa Street which has been occupied for the housing of refugees. It is not the first time, though. A month before that, City Hall discovered it owed 2,000 euros for a phone, as there was an active line inside the building which had not been deactivated. Because the squat residents don't allow meter readers to enter, there hasn't been an electricity bill so far.

A squat at City Plaza in central Athens, which is hosting 250 to 400 refugees, completed a full year in operation on April 22. The owner of the former hotel that has been taken over by Greek and foreign members of solidarity groups has been sent a water bill of 81,500 euros. New Democracy MP and former Athens mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis raised the issue with the municipal council, but so far there hasn't been any official reaction.

At the same time, the municipal council spokesman for the far-left ANTARSYA party, Petros Constantinou, said the money raised from the squat's one-year anniversary events will be used to pay the “former owner's” workers money that is owed to them. The owner of City Plaza wonders since when was her property transferred without her being notified. She explains that her previous tenant is the one who owes the hotel workers money, and also owes her money in unpaid rent.

In response to a question from Kathimerini, Mayor Kaminis said that he is personally against such actions, “because there exists an element of opacity.” “Nobody is responsible for what is happening,” he added.

 

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