Central squares in Athens, and Victoria in particular, are once again turning into makeshift camps for migrants evicted from state camps or accommodation following an announcement by the government that thousands of people who have secured refugee status must leave those facilities.
Police intervened on Monday to transfer migrants and refugees from Victoria Square to state facilities at Elaionas and Amygdaleza, but it remained unclear what their fate would be or if such police operations will continue.
The departures from reception centers and subsidized hotels started earlier this month and had initially been progressing very slowly. However, over the last 10 days, more than 800 refugees have left facilities on the islands, chiefly from Lesvos where the Moria camp remains woefully overcrowded.
As a result, large numbers of migrants have come to Athens and set up camp, with Victoria Square becoming increasingly crowded by the day, according to locals who say that families with children are sleeping in tents and on benches.
Volunteers working with migrants at Moria say camp residents who had secured refugee status were informed that they must leave the facility in line with the decision by the Migration Ministry. Many had been reluctant to leave due to the difficulties they will face in securing income and shelter.
However, when rumors circulated that authorities were planning deportations, many, including economic migrants, boarded ferries to Athens.
Local residents in the Victoria area told Kathimerini that crowds gather in the square most mornings before departing, though it remains unclear where they go. The migrants have reportedly been told to come to the square for guidance as to their next steps but it remains unclear who is receiving them. One resident said that many sleep in the square overnight next to their suitcases.
The problem at Victoria was broached during an Athens City council meeting on Monday with officials underlining the need for authorities to offer food and shelter to the refugees. Nasos Iliopoulos, a leftist SYRIZA official and head of the Anoixti Poli (Open City) movement, on Monday visited the square.
“Local residents and businesses can see that the situation taking shape is reprehensible both for the homeless refugees as it is for the quality of life in their neighborhood, which is only just starting to recover after a series of crises,” Anoixti Poli said.