NEWS

‘Temporary’ settlement

Thirteen years ago, 250 ethnic Greek families from Georgia, Armenia and Kazakhstan started a new life in Farkadona, Trikala, but the new homes they were promised by the Greek state are yet to materialize. Those who have been unable to make other arrangements on their own are still living in «temporary» container dwellings, while the free homes pledged to them remain on the drawing board. According to the state, the funds allocated for them are insufficient. Their odyssey began a few months after they arrived in Greece at the invitation of the Greek government of the time. «We came to Greece in 1992. According to the rehabilitation program for ethnic Greek immigrants, we were to stay in Farkadona for six months and then move to permanent, new homes in Thrace,» said Costas Avramidis, head of «Argonauts,» the Pontian and Ethnic Greeks’ Association in the prefecture of Trikala. «That idea was soon abandoned, and it was decided to leave us permanently in Farkadona,» he said. A temporary solution was soon found – in an old army camp at the edge of the village, using container homes first used for Kalamata earthquake victims. «There was already some basic infrastructure on the site, but over the years this temporary situation became permanent. Many people couldn’t tolerate the conditions. Those who had friends or relatives in Thessaloniki, Athens or Larissa soon left. About 100 of the original 250 families are still here,» said Avramidis. Living conditions in the camp are dire. «The situation is unacceptable. For 12 years we have been living in containers, 25 square meters of chipboard and metal,» explained Avramidis. «Some containers are home to eight people. A child grows up and gets married and the container is given a lean-to – makeshift extra room to house the couple. The people who have stayed on at Farkadona are poor; most of them have relatives in Germany and the Netherlands and live on remittance from there. The rest are laborers or elderly. Once a group of Japanese journalists came here by chance and were shocked at the conditions. They even urged us to ask the Japanese government for money.» Over the years, politicians have come to Farkadona, commiserated with them and then gone away again. But no solutions have been forthcoming. «Finally, in May 2003, we were told that 2 million euros had been approved for home construction,» said the local mayor, Thanasis Merivakis. «The procedure of allotting land began; about 55 plots in the old army camp which belongs to the State Property Assets Company and another 96 on municipal land behind the stadium. Last year infrastructure work began in both areas (roadworks, water supply, public spaces) and by the end of the year the plots were to be handed over to their new owners. But just when the problem appeared to be nearly resolved, everything came to a halt. «The Environment and Public Works Ministry, which is in charge, has not called for tenders for the construction of the homes. More than 10 questions have been raised in Parliament and we eventually found out that things have stalled,» said Avramidis. «In fact, the funds were almost lost, but after pressure was brought to bear they were transferred to the 2005 budget.» Avramidis said an appeal was made to Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who has visited the camp and is aware of the problems. «We can’t continue like this,» said the mayor. «If the state had spent at the outset what it has been spending over the years on electricity and water supplies for the camp, eight in 10 would now have their own homes.» Kathimerini approached the ministry and the Earthquake Victims’ Rehabilitation Service (YAS) to try and find out where the problem lay. «The reason is simple,» the service’s chief Michalis Politiopoulos said. «The 2 million euros allocated is not enough for over 100 modern homes. So the Finance Ministry has to approve more funds, based on a budget which YAS is working on. When the additional funds are approved, work will begin.»