COMMENT

First aid for the capital

By Maria Katsounaki

The fact that the center of Athens exudes the stench of human waste is an undeniable truth, just like the fact that in late spring, one nostril smells blossoming bitter lemon trees while the other smells urine. Equally true is the fact that daily life in the Greek capital is rapidly deteriorating once more.

A sense of abandonment, the sight of lost individuals and rising crime levels are currently prevailing in the heart of the city. Omonia Square, an area which has nearly become a transit center for refugees, has taken center stage again, especially as temperatures rise. While City of Athens crews clean large city squares every night, the smell of ammonia is indelible.

Recently, about 50 families of Syrian refugees – people with valid travel papers looking for a way out – were added to those who spend the night in downtown arcades and building entrances. We contacted the City of Athens to inquire about a number of hotels which are no longer in operation in the area. Municipal officials replied that these establishments belonged either to private parties, to the state or to state entities such as the Air Force Pension Fund. In order for establishments like Omonia’s La Mirage, for instance, to open their doors even temporarily, an order issued by Defense Minister Panos Kammenos’s would be enough.

Greek European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos recently told a Union of Municipalities (KEDE) conference in Halkidiki, northern Greece, that Greece’s portion of funding from the European Union’s increased budget for issues relating to migration now stood at 460 million euros, provided that the country submits a national action plan, including measures regarding infrastructure. Solutions do exist, even in the form of small measures that could patch things up and could provide a kind of first aid to an injured city.

The ongoing negotiations in view of reaching an agreement with the country’s partners and creditors, a task that has been absorbing all of the government’s energies, does not foresee any kind of recovery but mere survival, of the most basic kind. Meanwhile, our own environment is a direct and definitive reflection of the extended crisis. Athens, a city with a population of over 4 million people, has a pitiful city center. Besides Omonia (which has no public toilets), Victoria Square and the surrounding streets, the situation is also deteriorating around the Athens Law School area, where the number of drug users is on the rise. A filthy and smelly capital will not become prettier because of billboard campaigns, when the people living in it are crossing the streets increasingly faster, while holding their noses.

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