The other side of the siege

By moving some 230 migrants into the campus of Athens University?s Law School, the political groups that are running the show have achieved a political fait accompli. The takeover of the university has brought the debate on university and political asylum rushing to the fore. The former refers to their action and the latter to their demands. But on a different level, this action is testing the relationship between illegal immigrants and the Greek state and society.

Today, Greek universities provide asylum to every kind of arbitrary or illegal activity that hides in the guise of an ideology. This systematic abuse of the asylum law has undermined the concept and cheapened it in the minds of the public, and the current situation at the Athens Law School may just deliver the fatal blow to the regulation. When the situation first began to unfold, the university authorities followed their usual pathetic tactic of shirking their responsibility and playing hot potato with the government. Public sentiment, however, will no longer allow the kind of responsibility ducking it once tolerated. Meanwhile, university authorities were eventually forced to make a move by the immigrants? refusal to budge.

The situation has now become critical. On the one hand, the mass and unconditional legalization of all illegal immigrants is out of the question. On the other, granting political asylum to the hunger strikers (who have not even submitted applications) is also no solution to the problem. Political asylum was meant to protect individuals who are being persecuted for their political or religious beliefs or for their ethnicity, and not for all citizens of countries under a totalitarian regime or in a state of war. If the criteria for political asylum are allowed to become broadened to such an extent, then political asylum will have to be granted to several billion people from developing countries.

If the government decides to grant the Law School squatters asylum under duress, it will be opening a whole new can of worms by setting a precedent for other like-minded actions of blackmail. What the government should have done is never allowed the situation to reach this point in the first place, because now there are too many dangers involved in any campaign to evacuate the building.

Meanwhile, there are certain groups that are trying to turn the problem into a fuse to stir things up in the migrant community and test the tolerance levels of society and the state. Greeks are beginning to understand that there is another, more uncomfortable side to illegal immigration.