Migrants’ hunger strike draws criticism

Nearly 300 economic migrants began a hunger strike at the Law School of Athens University on Tuesday in a bid to attract attention to their plight but some academics and politicians criticized the move.

The immigrants, mostly from North Africa, arrived in Athens late on Sunday and were taken to a Law School building by human rights campaigners, including leftist students and journalists. Their hunger strike is intended to put pressure on the government to grant them residence permits. Most of the migrants had been working on Crete. Some 50 immigrants in Thessaloniki have joined them in their hunger strike.

However, the presence of the protesters in the Law School has attracted criticism from University officials, who say they did not give campaigners permission to allow the migrants into the building, which is currently being renovated.

?The building is not ready, it does not have proper plumbing or electricity,? the school?s dean Michalis Tsinizelis told Skai Radio. ?We unanimously decided that we could not allow them into the building.?

Tsinizelis expressed frustration at the fact that the campaigners supporting the migrants ignored the university?s wishes. ?Everyone does whatever they want in this country without asking permission from anyone,? he said.

The presence of the migrants in the university?s grounds has been criticized by New Democracy, the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) and the Democratic Alliance. It has also stoked a longstanding debate about the university asylum law, which prevents police from entering academic institutions? grounds unless a crime has been committed and the rector has asked officers to intervene.

Deputy Education Minister Fofi Gennimata agreed that the presence of the protesting migrants at the Law School was not ?fitting for a university.?

?I understand these people?s frustration, but a university should be a place that breeds respect,? she told Skai Radio.

However, journalist Petros Yiotis, who is a member of the group supporting the immigrants said that the argument over the asylum law and the use of the Law School for the protest was preventing people from focusing on the plight of the migrants.

?We are experiencing an absurd situation: we have 300 people that are beginning a hunger strike and nobody is taking any notice,? he said. ?Does the fact that 300 people are embarking on a hunger strike leave us indifferent??