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Society

Greece Moves to Clear Buildings of Squatters, But There’s Resistance

October 23, 2019

ATHENS – With the anarchist-dominated Greek capital’s neighborhood of Exarchia a hotbed of anti-establishment, anti-government activity, and almost under their control during the 4 ½ years of the reign of the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA sympathetic to them, squatters living in abandoned buildings didn’t have to fear being forced out.

That ended when New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis won July 7 snap elections and targeted them as part of his plan to rein in lawlessness and violence in the neighborhood as well as others where the notorious Rouvikonas had rampaged with near-impunity, even going after SYRIZA offices as a show of its outright defiance of any government, even far-leftists.

In a feature, the news site OZY, which portrays itself as representing the Change Generation, people from every corner of the globe who are challenging the status quo and bucking convention, reported how the evictions of the squats was turning the area upside down.

It started with the story of how on the early morning of August 26, dozens of asylum seekers and migrants woke up to the frightening sound of a helicopter buzzing above them to see riot police waiting outside to get them out of a building where they’d lived free for years.

After SYRIZA took power in 2015, several thousand of what is now more than 78,000 refugees and migrants seeking asylum when the European Union closed its borders to them after they’d fled their homelands and gone to Turkey as a jumping-off point before landing on Greek islands, preferred living in squats to detention centers and camps, what the report called a “dignified alternative” to the centers and camps even though the buildings may not have any services.

But police are now rapidly evicting refugees from squats to allegedly crack down on drug dealers, said OZY although the government said there’s nothing alleged about as drug use and dealing goes on openly and often out of control.

Ironically, the raids began in April when SYRIZA started cracking the whip after it got to be too much even for a government aligned with anarchist thinking after Rouvikonas attacked at will across the capital with no major arrests or prosecutions.

Then came Mitsotakis and the raids widened and intensified as he moved to honor his vow not to let the neighborhood be taken over, with law enforcement agencies moving out people from eight refugee squats in four separate raids over the past two months, pushing out 1000 people the report said.

“Unlike the previous government, which left refugees to migrate to new squats, New Democracy is hauling evicted refugees back to prisonlike camps and detention centers,” said the report by reporter Mat Nashed.

“The new government is pushing this myth about how bad the squats were and how great the camps are,” Ioanna Manousakki-Adamopoulou, a Ph.D. candidate at the University College London, who has lived in and focused her research on the squats in Exarchia told the site.

She told the site that the truth is that the squats were self-sustaining communities that Greek leftists and anarchists embraced and protected, vowing to guard them but absent when the police poured in to rid them of the residents.

In two abandoned schools that sheltered hundreds of asylum seekers, activists and charities built small playgrounds for children, cooked meals, and offered language lessons in classrooms. In other squats, activists repaired amenities and helped enroll refugee children in schools, it was said as well.

The government said it was going to move many of the more than 28,000 refugees and migrants in islands camps to detention centers on the mainland and not let any float around and live where they want, so that they can be tracked during asylum review processes.

It’s not all on New Democracy. In March, SYRIZA ended UN housing accommodation and cash assistance for recognized refugees, according to a statement by the UN. Refugee Agency. “Squats are necessary because the state doesn’t have a place to put everyone,” said a Lebanese migrant who requested he be identified by his initials, A.Z.

One Syrian refugee named Mohammad, who didn’t disclose his last name for fear of reprisal from authorities, noted that the police were less aggressive under the previous government. “I used to tell the police I was Syrian and they wouldn’t ask me for legal papers, but now they’re after us,” he said, telling harrowing tales of harassment, saying the squatters preferred where they were to the camps and centers, but the option is now taken away too.

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