(The Guardian) About 100 people held after new prime minister vows to bring ‘order’ to Exarcheia area
Greek police have arrested about 100 people in dawn raids on squats in Athens mostly occupied by refugees and migrants.
Dozens of officers cleared four sites in the Exarcheia neighbourhood of the capital. Helicopters flew overhead and the neighbourhood was flooded by police during the operation.
The conservative government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who took office as prime minister last month, had vowed to bring “order” to the district, promising regular police patrols.
The neighbourhood has frequently been the site of clashes between anarchists and the police, particularly since 2008, when a teenager was shot dead by an officer, causing days of rioting.
Kostas Bakoyannis, the new mayor of Athens, who was sworn in on Sunday, has pledged to make security his highest priority. Bakoyannis has accused the previous leftwing government of having taken a soft line against vandalism by some anarchist groups.
Ringed by university buildings, Exarcheia has long been a base for Greece’s intellectual left, anti-authoritarian and anarchist movements. Riot police stand on constant guard on the perimeter, and there are regular skirmishes between police, who use teargas, and youths, whose most common weapon are molotov cocktails, eager to vent their frustration at Greece’s economic and political situation.
In a country where far-right and state violence against migrants is well-documented, the lack of a visible police presence inside Exarcheia and its vocal anti-racist stance have created a place of relative sanctuary, say migrants.
“I am so happy here, I feel safe,” a resident from Afghanistan said prior to Monday’s raids. “Here we work together and have a good life.”
Thousands of refugees arrived in Athens in the summer of 2015. Seeing little response from the state, the anarchist squat movement in the area, which dates back to the 1980s, resolved to open empty buildings in Exarcheia to house refugees. Notara 26 was the first, and was soon joined by others, founded on the same principles of autonomous self-organisation.
The squats offer a viable alternative to official refugee camps and detention centres, where conditions have been widely condemned by international observers.
“I visited the camps as a volunteer,” a 31-year-old official refugee from Gaza, who lives in a squat, told the Guardian on a recent visit to Exarcheia. “You’re not a refugee there, you feel like you are in prison – and they’re full. [The squat] is important for me because I feel more like home, I feel a little more human. We have space to sleep, neighbours and a neighbourhood around us.”
In opposition, the New Democracy party attacked the Syriza administration’s handling of the refugee crisis, capitalising on security fears and a belief that Greece was having to shoulder a disproportionate share of responsibility.
In government, they have stepped up border enforcement, revoked asylum seekers’ rights to access health and social security services, and dissolved the ministry of migration, transferring responsibility for refugees to the ministry of citizen protection, which also oversees the police.
Nevertheless, it was under Syriza that the strategy of criminalising the refugee squats began. A wave of evictions by heavily armed police occurred in early April, affecting over 300 people.
To know more about the current politicized state of the neighbourhood: So long, Exarcheia: in conversation with Athenian essayist George Souvlis