The peaceful transfer in the early hours of Friday morning of some 230 hunger-striking immigrants from Athens University?s Law School to a nearby listed building has been hailed by academics and the government but may have only helped authorities buy some time.
After seven hours of talks between the migrants, their supporters, the police and a prosecutor, the protesters left the Law School building they had occupied since Monday to walk several hundred meters to the neoclassical house on the corner of Patission and Ipeirou streets.
?Fortunately, it all ended peacefully,? said Interior Minister Yiannis Ragousis. ?Something could have sparked wider reactions. We could have intervened forcefully but we did not want to. I think police forces in many countries would have chosen to use force and not to negotiate.?
Solidarity Initiative, a group supporting the immigrants, said that the property was too small to house all the migrants. More than 50 of them have been moved to other locations in the capital.
Sources said the government had hoped the migrants, mostly from North Africa, would accept an offer to move to an empty building at the former airport in Elliniko, southern Athens. That would have allowed authorities to place them under closer watch and to seal off the area around the protesters. Police fear that the migrants? new location, on one of central Athens?s busiest roads, is too easily accessible and could become a rallying point for other protesters.
Crucially, the owner of the property, Dinos Routzounis, has said that the immigrants, who are consuming just water and sugar as part of their protest against Greece?s immigration policy, can only stay at the property for two weeks.
Routzounis is a personal friend of Athens University rector Theodosis Pelegrinis, who insisted yesterday that he hadn?t received offers to move the immigrants anywhere else. Pelegrinis accused the government of acting too slowly and suggested that some lawyers who were acting on behalf of the migrants had attempted at the last minute to scupper the agreement for the protesters to leave the Law School.
Pelegrinis praised the leader of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), Alexis Tsipras, for adopting a constructive position during the negotiations. The government has suggested that the immigrants are being exploited by SYRIZA and some leftist fringe groups.