In 2016, outside the village of Petra in the foothills of Mount Olympus, a deserted and crumbling psychiatric hospital that had at one time functioned as a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients became the site of a makeshift camp comprising canvas tents.
This forlorn spot, many kilometers away from the nearest town or city, was deemed suitable by the state authorities to host 1,300 refugees, members of the Kurdish Yazidi minority.
The camp was run by the military, with volunteers teaching the children Greek and other foreign languages, and international nongovernmental organizations covering all their other needs. The camp’s residents included women who had spent time as ISIS hostages.
With the coming of winter, their tents were buried in snow and survival became a serious challenge. The canvas structures came down and the residents were moved to another facility in the area of Lake Volvi in Halkidiki, also in northern Greece.
The story of the Petra camp is indicative of the way that the state machine understands the concept of integration.
This was not the only camp on mainland Greece that was created out in the middle of nowhere, as far away from local communities as possible. In Malakasa and Skaramangas in Attica and in other parts of the country, the location and operation of such facilities pointed to a desire for exclusion rather than coexistence.
The same issue has come to the forefront recently after police evacuated three squats in downtown Athens’ Exarchia district which had been hosting dozens of asylum seekers. The responsibility for receiving, housing and providing opportunities for people who are entitled to international protection so that they may become integrated with the whole of society belongs to the state.
Trapping these people in a perpetual cycle of wait-and-see does not allow them to look to the future and stokes the kind of lies and rumors that migrant smugglers like to spread in order to attract new clients.
Given that the Balkan corridor through northern Greece has been shut for some years, it needs to be made clear to these refugees and migrants that they will not be able to travel to and settle in Western Europe legally.
The refugees are here to stay. This is something we need to understand so that we can move on to the next step, which is integration.