A police raid which took place in April 2019 in the Exarcheia area in Athens on squats, many of which house migrants and refugees | Photo: Imago/Panayotis Tzamaros
A police raid which took place in April 2019 in the Exarcheia area in Athens on squats, many of which house migrants and refugees | Photo: Imago/Panayotis Tzamaros

Since Greece’s new government came to power, there is a wind of change blowing through some parts of the country’s capital Athens. On Monday, the authorities raided squats in the neighborhood of Exarcheia in an effort to bring "order" to the district. 143 foreign nationals were arrested, many of them migrants.

Exarcheia is known for being ‘alternative.’ Punk boutiques jostle with a lively weekly market, alongside "un-trendy coffee bars" and lots of students, according to tourist guides. Gentrification might be creeping in, but the area is still associated with rebellious protests from the past. Since 2008 it has seen several clashes between anarchists and the police. In recent years, it has also been famous for several squats and occupied buildings, many of which house migrants and refugees.

According to pledges from the new conservative prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and Mayor of Athens Costas Bakoyannis, Athens needs a clean-up. When Bakoyannis, (who is Mitsotakis’ nephew and son of a former mayor of Athens and also a member of Mitsotakis’ New Democracy party) took office on Sunday, he pledged to turn Athens into a “safe clean and bright” European metropolis, according to the news agency AFP.

143 migrants removed

During Monday's raids, 143 foreign nationals were removed from four occupied buildings by police. AFP reported that most of the migrants came from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran and Iraq. Many did not have official papers. The group comprised 57 men, 51 women and the rest children.

The migrants, according to daily newspaper Ekathimerini, “were transferred to the Aliens’ Bureau on Petrou Ralli Street for identification and will be subsequently transferred to state facilities.” Three people remained in custody after the raids, two Greek nationals and one Frenchman. According to AFP, they were accused of “disturbing the peace.”

“Safety, cleanliness, [and] lighting” form part of Bakoyannis’ focus and plans for a new Athens. Areas like Exarcheia, which are associated with Greece’s intellectual left as well as anarchist and anti-authoritarian movements have, until recently, provided a “place of relative sanctuary” for migrants, wrote Britain’s Guardian newspaper. “I am so happy here, I feel safe,” one Afghan resident told The Guardian before the raids. “Here we work together and have a good life,” he continued.

New policies

After the increase in arrivals of refugees and migrants in 2015 the anarchist movement decided to take matters into their own hands and open up some of their squats to house migrants in the Exarcheia neighborhood. One refugee from Gaza told The Guardian that the squats were good for those who lived there because “I feel more like home, I feel a little more human. We have space to sleep, neighbors and a neighborhood around us.”

Athens’ new mayor’s father was assassinated by a far-left group when he was still a child. He has repeatedly spoken out against what he saw as the lenient treatment of his father's killer by the previous regime. Bakoyannis reported AFP, has also accused Syriza of “having taken a soft line against vandalism carried out by some anarchist groups.” The policy of raiding the squats, however, began under the Syriza government. Raids in April resulted in more than 300 evictions.

Bakoyannis and the new prime minister promise much tougher policies towards crime and disorder in the future. That could spell trouble for those living without papers or in illegal dwellings like the squats in Exarcheia.

 

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