ATHENS — More than 200 Syrian civil war refugees started a hunger strike Nov. 24 in front of Greece’s Parliament, urging the government to grant them temporary working and residence rights.
The protesters began gathering last week at Athens’ main square, complaining that refugees are being forced to pay exorbitant black-market rates to live in squalid apartments in Athens.
“People are living in bad conditions. We get (temporary) travel documents, but we can’t go anywhere. We can’t work, or go to hospital, or rent a place to live,” said Khaldoon Fadel, a 31-year-old former resident of Damascus, who joined the hunger strike.
The hunger strikers said they were only eating sugar. Several dozen of them sat on the marble-paved sidewalk with strips of box tape covering their mouths, and packages of flatbread placed in front of them.
“For an (apartment) that would cost 250 euros ($310) to rent per month, we have to pay 1,000 euros ($1,245),” Fadel said.
Fadel, who had worked as a chain store manager and fashion designer for women’s clothing before fleeing Syria, made the hazardous journey across Turkey and by boat illegally to the Greek island of Kos.
Greece is a busy entry point for immigrants and refugees seeking entry to the European Union. The financial crisis-hit country has seen a spike in the number of Syrians crossing by boat illegally from nearby Turkey.
Authorities expect a three-fold increase in illegal immigration this year, compared with 2013, with nearly two-thirds of the illegal traffic now coming from Syria.
On Nov. 23, the Regional Governor of Greater Athens, Rena Dourou, visited the protesters and said she had contacted the Greek Orthodox Church and the government to try and make arrangements to provide temporary shelter for Syrian refugees.