Several thousand people have recently gathered in the Athens suburb of Exarchy with the inscriptions “No pasaran”, a slogan of resistance from the Spanish Civil War meaning “It will not pass.”
Police arrived in the neighborhood that morning and evacuated detainees from four illegal facilities, two of which were homes for anarchist groups and two shelters for refugees and migrants.
More than a hundred men, women, and children from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea, and Turkey were taken by police vehicles to a city bureau for foreign persons to examine their legal status.
The raid was part of a broader campaign to carry out the pre-election pledge of new Greek President Kiriyakos Micotakis, who promised to “demolish the illegal neighborhoods of Athens” ahead of the July elections.
Police spokesman Stavos Balaskas described the action as a “silent vacuum cleaner” that would remove “garbage from the Exarchy.” He later apologized for his statement after being criticized on social media.
Some of the 27 families who live in an abandoned hotel near the raid site are now afraid to leave the building, Politico reports.
– This suburb was our home. We were accepted there and for that we are grateful – said Saif, a Gaza migrant.
The Exarchy is the site where 20 civilians were killed by a military junta during student protests in Athens in 1973. For the political descendants of these demonstrations, this area is sacred ground.
In recent years, suburban anarchist collectives have opened their doors to migrants and asylum seekers.
The neighborhood has become synonymous with drug trafficking, violence, and sexual offenses. This and previous governments, as well as numerous media outlets, have painted the suburbs as “a paradise for anarchy and terrorism.”
During the recent election campaign, the issue of the Exarchy caused a great national divide. Opposition and critics consider the raids “not fair to the settlement.”
– The police must fight crime, evicting vulnerable migrants will not solve anything – said Lefteris Papagianakis, Athens’ deputy mayor in charge of refugees and migrants.
The new mayor of the Greek capital this week became Micotakis nephew Kostas Bakoyannis.
The Greek government has been grappling with the large influx of asylum seekers since the summer of 2015. Of the 66,969 asylum applications filed last year, more than 90 percent remained unanswered.
The result is massive overcrowding.
The 2016 law gave asylum seekers the right to free health care, but one of the first decisions by the new government was to abolish benefits.
To the exarchists protests and messages that “solidarity is the weapon of the people” are defending their anarchists and migrants, but the question is how much their struggle will succeed.
More than a hundred migrants arrested in the raid were lodged at the hotel and their asylum applications were processed. It has already been decided that nine of them should be deported.