On 5th February 2017, most of the adults among the 711 refugees residing in a state-run Camp in the former Athens National Airport (Camp Elliniko II), in the majority coming from Afghanistan, started a hunger strike to protest against their degrading living conditions demanding for their transfer to homes, papers and freedom of movement for all. As reported by one of the refugees, it is very likely that residents of the two other camps in Elliniko (the nearby Olympic baseball and a hockey stadiums) might join in the protest tomorrow.Among the 1,600 refugees living in the three camps of Elliniko there are some who are there already since one year. Elliniko Camp was opened already back in autoumn 2015, in a period where thousands were arriving to Greece and many stayed homeless in the parks and squares of Athens. Planned as a temporary solution to ‘clear’ the capitals’ streets from the many homeless and repeatedly announced to be closed as belonging to one of the most infamous camps in Greece, it still stayed open until today, but always portrayed as ‘provisory’ under the UNHCR-category ‘informal site’.
Refugees used to live in the former airport throughout 2016 for months suffering under overcrowdedness, filthy insufficient toilettes and showers, inadequate food and without any information or legal aid. While the population has been reduced visible, the camp still is inadequate to host refugees and living conditions remain poor. Many highly vulnerable people still stay there. There are elderly, pregnant women, single mothers, people with mental health problems, people with chronic and heavy diseases etc. In the meantime, many refugees are living there since one year.
Amongst others, refugees who started the protest complained about the quality of the food, lack of basic needs as for example milk and diapers for babies and toddlers, no hot water, no laundry, lack of translators for sick persons who have to go to hospital and no coverage of their transportation there. It is matter of survival, they state. They do not care about having more clothes or more food. But: food which doesnt’ make sick. Enough food, in order not to be hungry. Heating in order not to freeze.
“There are only a hand full of persons among us who speak English and who can translate. They have to accompany anyone who gets sick to the hospital, as the authorities and NGOs do not provide us with translators for these purposes nor are there translators found in the hospitals. We don’t even get the transportation costs re-funded for the public transport used while accompanying some sick person. Some of us got fined more than 30 times already for using the public transportation without tickets. We will have severe problems in our asylum procedure, to get an ID and passport, if recognized, if we have open fines to pay. And they will increase successively if unpaid.”
Refugees living in Elliniko are suffering also mentally from the living conditions in the camp and their insecure situation in Greece and Europe.
“There are often fights. No one feels safe. People are in a miserable state. they don’t know what to do. Many fear to stay forever in Greece, where even Greek people cannot survive. There are no jobs, there is no future. We fear European policies, which aim to increase deportations of Afghans. Some of us have their relatives back in Afghanistan. They cannot sleep at night, because they left them back in conflict. There are people staying here who drink and fight. There is no safety in the camp. There is no survival in Greece and there is no safety in Afghanistan.”
Now, the refugees are trying to rase their voices to the world. They are already self-organised, having elected five representatives and holding plenaries since months. Now they want to provoke change, as they cannot suffer any longer.
“I am in danger in Afghanistan. I am even in danger in Greece. I was told to get myself an appointment at the Asylum Service via Skpye, but Skype isn’t responding.”
A woman holding a speech on the protest today said:
“We left Afghanistan because of the life-threatening situation and for a future for our children. You closed the borders in front of us. You locked us up in Greece. Now you are responsible to provide us with what is needed to survive at least. Our children get sick here, and the one doctor we have here for a few hours a day doesn’t give them medicine but tell them to go an drink some water or some juice. We have the right to have a good doctor, to have medicine. Even a pregnant woman gave birth here, because the ambulance came so late.”
“There are mice in here. There is so much garbage outside. People get sick from being here.”
Most adult refugees living in the camp attended the hunger strike today and plan to continue until the authorities, UNHCR and Danish Refugee Council (DRC) who are responsible in the camp listen and react to their demands:
– Open homes! Open the cities! Immediate evacuation of all into dignified living conditions!
“We need to stay in the city and in our own rooms or flats. We don’t want to be transferred to just another tent camp or prefab camp at the margins of society! We want our children to go to school and we want to go to work and earn our own living by ourselves in order to build up our lives independently. We want to be free and participate in daily life as all others do in this country.”
– Give papers and residence to stay to all refugees and allow anyone who wants to move to another country to relocate legally and to join their relatives! No discrimination of certain nationalities!
“The relocation program is discriminative. The right of free movement should be given to all refugees. Many have their mothers, fathers, brothers or sisters, their children or grandparents abroad. Everybody has the right to be with his or her families. All people have the right to live and work, somewhere, where it is possible to survive. Even Greeks are searching for jobs outside of Greece. They are surviving by returning to stay with their families. We have no one to help us here, no one to open his or her house for us or to give us food. If there is a chance to survive here, to find a job here, then we will stay. As long as there isn’t, we should be allowed to move on legally.”
– Stop deportations to Turkey! Stop deportations to Greece! Stop deportations to Afghanistan! Stop deportations to any unsafe countries! The right to life for all!
“We fight for our rights. We fight for the rights of the others too. The ones who are on the islands now, should be allowed to come to the mainland, to seek asylum here, to stay here. Currently, people hardly arrive to Greece anymore. The Turkish and the Greek Coast Guard, together with the European Coast Guard fight refugees back on the sea border. They stop them, from arriving to a place for asylum and protection. The few who still come should be given a chance to stay. Some of them who were allowed to move to the mainland arrive to Athens without a place to stay. They are not permitted in the camps. Others come to Athens without permit. They even have to return to the island. We want freedom for all.”
“They want to start returning refugees who have been fingerprinted here after March 15th of this year, back to Greece. No one can survive here. We like to be in Greece. There are some nice people here, the weather is good and the mentality of the Greeks is a little bit like our own. But there are no jobs and there is no help for us. So how can we find a home? How can we secure food for our kids? We also liked much more to be in our homes in Afghanistan. But there is so safety but but only war.”
“Europe is talking about the deportation of Afghans. Some countries started already to return our people back even though their lives are in danger in Afghanistan. Our president has signed a deal with Europe to get money in exchange for taking refugees back. But our own politicians keep their families in Europe for their own safety. European governments advice their own citizens not to visit our country for safety reasons. If we go back, we will die. Everybodys’ lives matter!”
UPDATE 06.02.2017 / 10:48
Minister of Migration Mouzalas not allowed to enter Camp as refugees locked door and continue protest.
Migration Minister insisted to enter the building. After 11 o’clock refugees open the door. Two kids get slightly injured during the protest, one of which got punched by a police officer. Mouzalas entered without police forces one of the buildings but exited shortly after as refugees were reacting angrily to his presence inside. He had visited the camp last time in July 2016!
“We feel the pain of hosts, we try with our own mistakes and weaknesses to help, offering good things which perhaps in their homes they did not have access to,” said Minister Mouzalas in a Press Conference in Elliniko provoking the anger of the refugees.
Migration Minister claimed refugees hunger strike was a fake news. Specifically, he reported that there were only 30 refugees involved in the protest, while ‘all others were calm’ and that the Greek solidarity group KEERFA who was present during yesterdays protest had instigated refugees to this act. He stated it was illegal to lock the door of the camp and to hinder the catering from bringing the meals, as happened today. While he also expressed his empathy for the problems of the refugees, still his answer to them was ‘who doesn’t feel well here, could leave the camp and live with the consequences’. More than that, he put refugees in a bad light claiming they had hindered authorities from bringing a sick person to the doctor, while demanding access to medical aid during the protest. He also claimed that refugee children were already going to school. As he stated himself though, only ⅓ of the kids in Elliniko are in school up today. Lets remind ourselves at this point that some refugee live in the camp already since a year. The beating of one child by a police officer only some minutes ago, he reportedly didn’t witness.
During a speech in parliament Mouzalas reported that the municipailty of Athens with a UNHCR-program hosts nowadays and almost one year after the closure of the Balkan Route 1,964 ‘refugees and migrants’ (86% Syrians, 7% Afghans and 6% Iraqis). That is approximately as much as is estimated to be hosted in squats and private homes in the same area, funded by private donations only and run by activists and volunteers, refugee and non-refugee together. At the same time more than 10,000 refugees live in prefab houses and tents in the mass camps all around Athens.
Commenting on the protest in the morning he continued: “The Greek state has laws, and these laws must be respected. We don’t want (to use) violence but we will also not to be exposed to violence.!”