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Πέμπτη, 23 Ιουλίου 2009

The Destruction of a Refugee Camp in Greece:

A report by the Movement for the Rights of Refugees and Immigrants in Patras.


Email of the Movement:
kinisi.yperaspisis@gmail.com

The consequences of the war by EU and US in Afghanistan are more than apparent in
Greece. This war created thousands of refugees who are trying to survive by traveling
to “democratic” Europe. Thousands have died on this “journey” and those that arrived
alive face a “fortress Europe.” The following is a report about the destruction of a
point of arrival, a refugee camp, in the third biggest town in Greece, Patras.

The Patras refugee camp was destroyed on July 12, 2009. It had a lifetime of
approximately eight years. Located in the north of the city, next to a small river -
Milichos - behind Iroon Polytechniou Avenue, it consisted of about 150 small huts, in
an area of 5 to 6 acres, with a mosque in the center and a few improvised shops. It
hosted and protected 1000 to 2000 refugees from Afghanistan. Though it was an
improvised camp, under miserable hygienic conditions, it was the last refuge, the
last hope for refugees in Patras. At least 300 of them had applied for asylum and had
managed to get a “red card,” while 200 others wanted one, but could not apply, since
the authorities who are responsible for accepting and processing applications did not
have a translator.

Several attempts to demolish the camp were made by the authorities.

On the 23rd of January 2008, for example, with the use of a demolition protocol that
was composed by the Prefecture and characterized the camp as “an arbitrary
construction,” another effort to tear down the camp was made. This effort was
preceded by an extensive operation that took place in order to arrest and remove from
the city 1500 refugees. Both the arrest and the demolition activities were prevented
after organized actions by the Movement of the rights of Refugees and Immigrants and
a huge demonstration (of 2.000 people) that took place with the participation of the
refugees themselves in the end of January.

A year later, second attempt was made on the 21st of January 2009, when a fire burned
down about 40 huts. Authorities accused Afghans themselves as the arsonists. The fire
was put out and the camp was once more saved.

The solidarity movement supported this “miserable camp” and insisted to the end that
before demolishing the already existing refugee camp, a new one should be built
within the city limits, where people could move freely whenever and wherever they
wanted.

This claim was widely accepted and adopted by some official members of Mr.
Karamanlis’ government, such as the Minister for Home Affairs, Mr. Pr. Pavlopoulos.
The Support Movement to the Immigrants and Refugees and other organizations defending
refugees rights also demanded that asylum and travel documents should be issued to
the refugees, the under age should be protected, and activities aiming to the social
integration of the refugees should be supported.

After the recent European Union (EU) elections, along with the rise of the right-wing
party of LAOS, the (supposedly) socialist party of PASOK acceded to the ruthless EU
measures against refugees: “No tolerance to illegal immigrants.” Those were the words
used before the elections by the leader of PASOK, Mr. G. Papandreou. These are the
immediate reasons why the plans for building a new refugee camp were abandoned and,
instead, cruel police measures were adopted, including the fortifying of the harbor
and the launching of police invasions on the camp. In addition several arrests were
made under terrorizing circumstances. The refugees who were not arrested (especially
those who had a red card) were threatened to prevent them from going near the camp again.

Under these circumstances – and especially because of the police actions - the number
of residents in the camp dramatically declined during the past two months. The
refugees stopped sleeping in the camp and dispersed within the city. Some of them
fled to other places. Police authorities and the local political leadership were
satisfied by the effectiveness of these measures and the decrease in the number of
refugees, claiming that these measures helped to solve the “problem” of the camp
without the need of creating a new host place.

Sunday morning of the 12th of July 2009, however, was the time of the “final
solution.” At 5:30 am, police forces reinforced by six MAT squads (with blue and
green overalls) - who came from Athens – surrounded the camp, under the presence of
the local political leadership and a public prosecutor. Never before in Patras there
was there a such “operation” by the police. And this “operation” was against people
that are the victims of a war; that is, it is an “operation” against refugees that
are created by the war of US and EU.

This operation found the parties of New Democracy, PASOK and LAOS, in agreement and
in favor to the tough measures of the police forces. It was intended to solve the
refugee problem in the city by military means. An official statement concerning this
measure was released on Saturday evening, but it was not clear what it meant. Along
with the remaining refugees, only 15 members of our organization and a few other
people in solidarity were present. Other people, including young members of
anarchists groups either failed to approach, got arrested or were detained for
identification.

Some police forces encircled the camp while others invaded it. About 200 refugees who
did not manage to escape were arrested. The leaders of the operation didn't permit to
the members of our organization to have any access to information or to the refugees.
Only after two hours of pressure did we see a document by the Perfecture that
permitted the destruction of the camp, but its legality is questionable.

Bulldozers, trucks and buses (one double-decker bus and three normal ones) arrived.
Bulldozers made the final attack on the camp, while the buses gathered the refugees.
Under-age children were taken and left at a shelter in Konitsa (400 km north). The
red card possessors were taken away to a hotel, since the have applied for asylum.
Those who did not have the appropriate papers and were not under age (always
according to the decisions made by the police) were driven to an unknown destination
and detained, without anybody being informed concerning their whereabouts. At 8 am,
when Afghans disappeared from the camp, the bulldozers and the trucks began
demolishing the huts, excluding the mosque in order not to be blamed for disrespect
to this religious place. A few minutes later flames appeared in the camp site,
completing the demolition quickly and without exceptions. The mosque turned into ashes.

According to the police, the fire was started by the Afghans and as proof of this
claim video tape belonging to local TV stations showed three Afghans running in the
camp. According to uncertain information at this time the three Afghans have already
been tried in court for committing arson.

Later the same morning, a second operation started, this time against the Sudanese
who live in the south of the city. The Sudanese have no huts, only blankets and
cardboard shelters. For the authorities, it was a good opportunity to “clear” Patras
from all foreigners.

The Movement for the Rights of Refugees and Immigrants states, «It is a failure of
policy to resort to military solutions as a response to social problems. It is a
failure of policy to be unable to design a long-term immigration plan. It is a
failure of policy to make decisions while ignoring the causes that produce refugees.
Tomorrow, in one week or in one month refugees will be here again.»

Doctors Without Borders (working inside the Afghans’ camp since May 2008 providing
primary medical care and psychosocial support) expressed its deep concern after the
police operation in the camp of Patras: «Most of the people are forced to leave their
country because of war or extreme poverty and face an uncertain future and a possible
detention for an unknown period of time. This can have very negative effects on
health and psychological state ». The Communist Party and SYRIZA (left parties) made
statements, condemned police operation against the Afghans’ camp and characterizing
it as brutality.

While police forces and political leadership seem satisfied by the outcome of the
operation, the Movement for the Rights of Immigrants and Refugees and several other
movements of solidarity with the refugees are planning the following actions:
Supporting and offering solidarity to refugees and immigrants wherever they are found
within the city, where they are hiding under the fear of arrests and deportations.
Taking all the necessary legal actions in order to find out the legitimacy of the
break down of the camp.
Pushing the authorities to accept new applications for asylum.
Demanding that the asylum seekers are treated with dignity and have their rights
protected.
Publishing the brutality, since hunting the refugees is a cruel barbarism.
We demand:
- The release of the arrested.
- The issuing of asylum and travel documents to the refugees.
- The protection of the under age with social inclusion measures.
- The social integration of the refugees.

As one of the asylum seekers told us yesterday “Even if the house of animals is
destroyed, people permit them to build their house somewhere else. We don’t even have
this right.”

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