At 4:30 in the morning on the 17th of June, squads of riot police surrounded PlateiaViktoria and forced around 16 sleeping families– about 71 children and 44 adults– ontobusses. They were taken to Eleonas Refugee Camp. The families had spent the last severaldays resisting attempts to put them onto busses. They wanted homes and safety. They didn’t want to go to another refugee camp. All of the families had spent months in Moria living in-dirty and dangerous conditions. They had arrived in Athens a few days earlier and slept on the pavement of the Plateia. The families asked why they were being punished, abandoned,and denied basic human rights.
The situation on Plateia Viktoria the week of June 15th exemplifies the current approach to migration in Greece. It demonstrates the laws, policies, and attitudes that leave people waiting, puts them in danger, provides them no options, and shuffles them from place to place as part of a political game. We as the Viktoria Solidarity saw the specific impact of these policies over the course of the past weeks. We saw the ways the system has been built to harm, confuse, and abandon migrants.
The people who slept on Platia Viktoria arrived from Moria refugee camp. Due to Greek and EU laws, when people arrive on the Greek islands to seek asylum they are forced to remain on the island they arrived on until their asylum processes. The government and the UNHCR maintain the camps such that they don’t have enough food, water, housing, or doctors. People usually cannot send their children to school, and cannot work. Stabbings and fires are regular occurrences. The camps have been moved far from the city centers, leavingpeople isolated and out of sight. In Moria and Vial and Vathy, time stops and people are forced to just wait.
Recently, hundreds of people living in Moria have suddenly received authorization to leave– some have been finally granted asylum and some have simply had their geographic restriction lifted. These people are told they must leave the camp, and so they flee Moria as soon as they are able, many spending the entirety of their small UNHCR food allowance on boat tickets to Athens.
But when people arrive in Athens they have nowhere to go. There is no support provided. No translation offered. People talk to each other, and through word of mouth many hear about Plateia Viktoria. These people have been made homeless by the system, so they arrive and spread out blankets on the square to sleep on. By Monday June 15th around 16 families were sleeping on the square. We spoke to these people, and they expressed over-and over that they just wanted housing. But there were no avenues to secure it. These people were left with even less than a tent in a dangerous camp, they were left with nothing.
The State’s only response to requests for housing is suggesting people apply for the Helios project. Representatives from the Helios project (run by IOM) were present on the square Monday and Tuesday to try to push people to register. But this program is designed for failure. A new law requires people to leave camps and NGO housing after only 1 month of receiving asylum. The ‘integration’ program of Helios is a narrow project available to people after this time, providing a small stipend of rental support for six months. The program has various bureaucratic needs (AFM, address, bank account) which are impossible to fulfill in the time allotted. Helios admit there is not enough available housing for the 10,000 people facing eviction from May or the hundreds more leaving Moria. This implicitly accepts homelessness’s part of the process. Refugees and migrants are pressured to integrate into a society and a system that intentionally rejects them. Asylum thus equates to homelessness.
On Monday June 15th at around 7pm squads of anti-terrorist police arrived on PlateiaViktoria and told the people staying on the square that they must leave, and tried to push them onto busses. They spoke of a hotel, of a safe place to try to get the people on the square to enter the busses. In this moment there was no use of physical violence, just lies.The real destination of the bus was Eleonas Refugee Camp. This information was given finally when some of the people, mostly the women, refused to get on the busses and refused to go to another camp. In this moment people from Viktoria Solidarity were present, and putout a call to different networks and groups, asking for support. Many arrived and tried to speak to the police, to ask where the people were being taken, to insist on at least translation and consent.
The police spent hours threatening and intimidating, surrounding the families sitting on the ground in riot gear with guns. Many of the children cried in fear. The cops insisted that Eleonas was better than Moria. The people on the plateia insisted they did not want to go toany camp at all. They knew what the camps were like. Furthermore, those who have been granted asylum generally cannot stay in camps which are meant for asylum-seekers. We knew even if these people were taken to Eleonas many would not be permitted to stay for long. This did not matter to the cops or government workers who kept passing by, who simply wanted people off the square and out of sight.
“It is not safe for you here,” the police told one person from Afghanistan.
“They stabbed me in the camp,” they responded.
The violence and intimidation of the cops is an ongoing tactic. In recent weeks we witnessed police controls and prosecutions of people of color without cause on PlateiaViktoria and Agios Pantelemonas. Heavily armed anti-terrorist cops and large squads of DIAZmotorbikes regularly did operations where they did supposed ID checks and filled busses with young men of color, following the state’s image of all migrants as criminals who need to be detained. The Greek state has invested greatly in policing this year, pouring millions of national and EU funds into border controls and internal policing. It is intentional that this funding is not being spent on housing, or medication, or support. It is spent on police repression and border militarization. Police and police violence are the answer of the state to every situation, they maintain the current power structures.
Eventually, after much pressure on Monday afternoon the cops stepped back from the families. An assembly was held with all those present. The people sleeping on the plateia spoke about psychological issues, violence, and their experiences in the hell of Moria. They repeated that they wanted homes. They didn’t want to go to any camp. They said they would stay on Plateia Viktoria for the night, and would appreciate support from the solidarians present. Around 30 people stayed and did a night shift on the Plateia.
On Tuesday June 16th we maintained a presence on the square. Cops remained present as well. “We understand your problems but the shops are losing money because you’re here,” one of the cops explained. A few of us laughed. The police were angered by this.
“why are you laughing?”
“I’m laughing because you put the shops over the lives of the people.”
We saw that this cop understood his job– defending the rights of those who own and of those who sell, whatever it takes. It was clear this conflict was about the property and businesses that motivate the violence of the state, putting in practice the racist politics of borders, asylum,and proof of identity that control who is treated as a human being and who is not. The conflict was about the summer in Greece– the clean squares and islands where the tourists should not be bothered by non-European travelers.
Media was everywhere, filming sleeping children without consent. Government officials again came to try to convince people to leave. That evening another assembly was held with all those present. People again expressed that they wanted a home. Again it was clear that the state had made this impossible.
People sleeping on Plateia Victoria refute the created invisibility and distance of the refugee camps and detention centers. This action allowed people to recenter themselves and the violence being done to them. It allowed people to meet and organize together, to push against the forced divisions in the government structures.
Early in the morning on Wednesday June 17th the state moved to take away this visibility of the around 110 people sleeping on Plateia Viktoria. A unit of anti-terrorist police entered the square around 3:00am, followed by a squad of riot police. A group of five solidarians, doing a night shift, tried to stop them. Four police grabbed one solidarian, twisting their arms and legs behind them, and pushing them to the ground. All solidarity present were put into police cars and taken to the central Gada police station. In the following 15 minutes, more solidarians arrived, but some were also beaten, put in police cars, and taken to Gada ,making a total of 12 solidarians prosecuted in Gada. The sleeping people were packed into busses and transported to the camp of Eleonas. This violence is a form of psychological torture. People said repeatedly they did not want to go to any camp. Life in camps removes people from community and access to support. Camps situated outside of cities violently hide the presence of people from the cities.
At Eleonas those violently evicted from Plateia Victoria faced further violence of hunger, thirst and no access to hygiene. They received their first ‘ration’ of food at 1.30pm, 9 hours after being evicted from the plateia. They were forced to sleep outside for 2 nights before moving to tents. Together with other collectives we held a demonstration to Eleonas camp that day and spoke to the people staying there about the terrible conditions. We all agreed to join a call for a demonstration on Saturday against racist policies, demanding housing, papers, and dignity for all.
What we see in these events are some of the ways refugees, migrants and people of color are systematically victims to police brutality, racial profiling, and institutionalized denials of dignity. As the tourism season is about to begin, the Greek state is refocusing on a capitalist image of a holiday playground for white and wealthy people that requires people outside of the European Tourist comfort zone to be continuously evicted from public space sand quarantined in refugee camps. It is the continuation of a racist logic that prioritizes whiteness and businesses over the lives of black and brown people. It is a logic that requires police throughout the city and criminalizes anyone who “looks like a migrant.”
Additionally these events show the ways in which migrant women and mothers are particularly oppressed in these moments with sexist violence and threats. It cannot be lost that it was the women on the plateia who led the protests, who refused to get on the busses,who called for more than just supplies, and who urged for the demo on Saturday.
On Monday June 22 those who had been taken to Eleonas were still left without any housing. Around 30 of the people were put on a bus and sent to a camp in Serres, an area in the north of Greece, close to the border of Bulgaria. They stated they still did not want to live in a camp and refused to get off the bus. They were told that they must sign a form in Greek, without translation, that ultimately stated they had “refused accommodation”. These people were able to pay the bus driver from their own money to take them to Thessaloniki, where those that could afford it took a train back to Athens. Over the past week these people have been forced to travel almost the entirety of the country of Greece, without ever sleeping inside.
Some from the group who had been evicted from Viktoria were registered in Eleonas camp but then told they could not stay inside. On Tuesday June 23, around 11 people remained just outside the gates of Eleonas, some in tents, some on the street. What we see here is the way people are shipped around without consent or information or care. They are forcibly taken from one camp to another. There is nowhere where they are permitted to be.
This violence is ongoing. By Friday June 19th several more families arrived on Plateia Viktoria. They spread their blankets out on the square because the system has been designed to leave them homeless, isolated, and traumatized. Again police came and pushed people onto busses, to remove the violence done to them from public sight. These people were taken to Amygdaleza detention center, regardless of the fact that most of them had been granted asylum.
On Tuesday June 23rd another 70 or so people arrived from Moria to the Plateia. The police brought three busses to remove people from sight. The police insisted that everyone had a choice to board the bus or not, but if people did not follow, the riot police would be called. Threatening riot police does not allow people to make a choice. The police claimed that the families were being taken to “an open camp” beside or inside Amygdaleza detention center. It defies all logic to suggest it is possible to have an open camp inside a detention center. Rather taking people en masse to Amygdaleza reveals the state’s ongoing criminalization of migration. Being a migrant in Greece, in public, will get you shipped to prison.
This violence enacted on Plateia Viktoria is not isolated. It stretches from the borders ofthe Greek state to the seats in parliament to the NGO offices and to squares across Europe. It is a violence that has been enacted before and continues. More people will arrive to Viktoria soon, and they too will be forced to spread blankets on the sidewalks. People do not end up sleeping on a public square by accident. It is not an accident that the solutions presented are impossible. It is not an accident that the police were violent, or that there are hundreds of empty apartments all over Athens, or that there is a constant lack of translation. Rather what we see is a system that removes every option and right from migrants and refugees, enforced with racist violence. It is an intentional repressive structure that forces people from camp to square to camp, lying that this is necessary, but simply prioritizing the continuation of the state and business as usual. The state tells migrants to be nowhere, to not exist at all. It rejects ahuman being’s expectation to be treated as a human being.
Every time people arrive in Viktoria the violence the state has tried to make invisible is made more visible. The people the state wishes to disappear will not disappear.
The squares belong to the people.
Evict cops from every square.
Housing for all.
Lives and freedom over business and laws.
See you on Plateia Viktoria.