NEWS

Lives marked by poverty and bad luck

The stories told by people who lost their homes in the 1999 earthquake reveal lives marked by poverty and bad luck. Sotiris Basdelis sits in a plastic chair in front of his container home at the «Axion Esti» camp for quake victims in Menidi, as his wife watches from the door. «No one listens to us, the doors are closed to us,» said Basdelis, who suffers from heart problems. His electricity supply was cut off for 80 days during the winter, until someone from the Earthquake Victims’ Rehabilitation Service paid his bill out of his own pocket. «Most of us are poor or unemployed,» added Basdelis’s neighbor Machi Sioli. Seven-and-a-half years after the earthquake, very few people are still involved in helping the victims. The media’s interest has waned and the current government appears to be using the same tactics as the previous one – leaving things to take care of themselves. The Axion Esti camp is just one of nine in Menidi (in the municipality of Acharnes) and 70 set up around the rest of Athens after the quake. In the years since, just 31 of them have closed, usually by merging with neighboring camps. Over the past six months about 130 huts have been closed. The situation in the camps is complicated. Originally there were two categories of inhabitants – owners and tenants of homes that were damaged or which collapsed. «There is great poverty in the camps,» said Father Damianos, parish priest at the Profitis Ilias Church in Rizoupoli, which brings food and clothing to three camps in Menidi, Perissos and Metamorphosis. «The state has no social welfare system, with the result that the people in the camps are destitute,» he said. «Many don’t even have any shoes.» This is not only the case at Ano Liosia (where there are 43 camps), Acharnes and other poor neighborhoods. For example, there are still two camps in Kifissia. The larger of these two camps sits near luxury maisonettes. Residents Ermioni Tsiliyianni and her friend Chrysi Tiaka welcomed us with a smile. «Before the quake I lived with my son’s family in the worker housing apartments,» she said. «Now that they have repaired their home I decided to stay here because it was a tight squeeze for all of us there.» Panayiota Georgoni, one of the two social workers, said that just under 10 families remained in the camps. «However, out of the 78 containers homes, just five keys have been handed over. We found that 36 of them were being used for storage. Mostly it is elderly people and just one or two families that are still here. We are trying to persuade them to look elsewhere, but we know that is often impossible for financial and social reasons,» she explained. But the earthquake victims are not the only residents of the camps. At the «Kapota» camp in Ano Liosia, the container homes change hands for 1,000 euros. Ethnic Greeks from the Black Sea states, Gypsies and homeless people have been squatting in the abandoned containers for years. In some cases, the municipalities themselves have organized the «colonization» as favors or as a kind of «social policy». One of the arguments put forward by the Environment and Public Works Ministry as well as the municipalities is that the camps are no longer inhabited by their rightful occupants, although there are no longer any real «rightful occupants» since the period covered has long expired. It is a difficult problem to solve, since most of the occupants are destitute, disabled or unemployed. Machi Sioli believes that the only solution is a housing program for the poorest inhabitants, such as the one provided by the Worker Housing Organization (OEK). Raftopoulos believes that the Earthquake Victims’ Rehabilitation Service along with the police, should work out who the remaining earthquake victims are and gather them together in just one or two camps.