The camps, the poor and the state

Eight-and-a-half years after the last big Athens tremor, two-thirds of the camps set up for earthquake victims are still in place. The «cities within cities» are home mainly to people who were unaffected by the quake; only a very small minority were actually made homeless in 1999 – the poorest, those who have not been able to make a new start. According to YAS, of the some 6,000 container homes set up in 1999 only 3,576 remain, spread out over 17 municipalities. Of these, 2,960 are concentrated in two municipalities, Menidi (1,050 in eight settlements) and Ano Liosia (1,910 in 47 settlements). The largest camp in Athens is the Kapota camp in Menidi, with 868 containers. A month ago, the municipalities of Menidi and Ano Liosia announced the beginning of action to gradually empty the camps. Ano Liosia moved 781 of the 1,950 containers within its boundaries, while at Menidi it was decided to close seven of its eight settlements within the next six months. The mayors’ main argument is that some of the camps have become hotbeds of crime. Meanwhile they are taking up needed space, often where high rents can be demanded. In reality, most of the residents of earthquake victims’ camps are people who moved in after the earthquake victims moved out. Many bought or have rented containers from the previous residents and many were encouraged to move there by mayors as an election campaign gambit. Whatever the case, any attempt to empty the camps will have to first address the question of what to do with the few poverty-stricken families or elderly residents (about 100-200 people) who were left in these temporary homes after the 1999 quake. Most of them are living on welfare and are fed by the Church or philanthropists, often former neighbors. The issue is a thorny one, since no one wants to be responsible for evicting helpless people. However, the situation is chronic and the state has failed to take any action considered normal in other Western societies.