Six ques­tions and one fact about Athens

The sorry sit­u­a­tion in the heart of the Greek cap­i­tal is a re­sult of many com­plex fac­tors and can­not be changed overnight

Kathimerini English - - Focus -

take them in. From 2002, when the GreekTurk­ish repa­tri­a­tion pro­to­col was put into ef­fect, and through 2010, the Turk­ish authorities took in just 2,491 im­mi­grants of the 73,935 that ar­rived il­le­gally via Tur­key. Greece has made diplo­matic ef­forts to turn this sit­u­a­tion around, al­ways within the con­text of the Euro­pean Union. The sec­ond part of the ques­tion re­lates to why we don’t send them back to where they came from. There are two groups of peo­ple here. One con­sti­tutes il­le­gal im­mi­grants from coun­tries where there is no state to speak of (i.e. Afghanistan, So­ma­lia etc) and a great per­cent­age of them are en­ti­tled to po­lit­i­cal asy­lum. Ex­treme right-wing rhetoric, how­ever, has cre­ated the im­pres­sion that grant­ing asy­lum to these peo­ple is un­ac­cept­able, when in fact it would make it eas­ier for them to move onto other coun­tries in Europe, where many have rel­a­tives. The other group con­sists of peo­ple from coun­tries to which they can be sent back. But the il­le­gal im­mi­grants them­selves don’t al­ways tell the truth. Many lie and say that they are Pales­tinian. There­fore it takes time to es­tab­lish their real iden­ti­ties. Then you need to co­op­er­ate with their re­spec­tive em­bassies to ar­range that they have the nec­es­sary travel docu- ments. Nat­u­rally, they do what­ever they can to de­lay the process. Months can go by like this. Mean­while, Greece is not equipped with suit­able ar­eas to host and to have some con­trol over such a large num­ber of il­le­gal im­mi­grants over the course of months. Let’s not for­get the back­lash from cer­tain lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties when the es­tab­lish­ment of re­cep­tion cen­ters was an­nounced. If, how­ever, such cen­ters are not es­tab­lished all over Greece and es­pe­cially in Attica, the prob­lem will not be solved for the sim­ple rea­son that the il­le­gal im­mi­grants know that even if they are ar­rested, they will re­main in de­ten­tion for a very short pe­riod of time. Forc­ing the es­tab­lish­ment of such cen­ters upon lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, mean­while, is not an op­tion. We need so­cial con­sent. The gov­ern­ment is pre­pared to dis­cuss re­cip­ro­cal ben­e­fits for the es­tab­lish­ment of such cen­ters. Moral hypocrisy is high on this is­sue. The way the law on broth­els is drafted means that there are only three legal es­tab­lish­ments of this kind in the Athens. Wher­ever laws are faulty, il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity blos­soms. This has re­sulted in the fol­low­ing: a) thou­sands of peo­ple are vic­tims of un­be­liev­able vi­o­lence and abuse; b) the sit­u­a­tion cre­ates sig­nif­i­cant haz­ards to pub­lic health; c) hun­dreds of thou­sands of mil­lions of eu­ros are cir­cu­lat­ing il­le­gally, nur­tur­ing corruption; d) broth­els have mush­roomed all across the city, while the mag­ni­tude of the prob­lem is at­tested by the fact that there is even a spe­cial­ized web­site ad­ver­tis­ing the “prod­uct,” list­ing prices and giv­ing the “artis­tic names” of the pros­ti­tutes; e) at a time when the state is re­duc­ing wages and pen­sions, hun­dred of mil­lions of eu­ros are not be­ing taxed, while at the same time the so­cial and med­i­cal costs of this sit­u­a­tion are a bur­den on the sys­tem. Chang­ing the law in or­der to curb the phe­nom­e­non can­not be done with­out so­cial con­sen­sus. Of course, the phe­nom­e­non of pros­ti­tu­tion ex­ists to such an ex­tent be­cause cer­tain cit­i­zens pay for these ser­vices. Shouldn’t we, in­stead of just evok­ing the vic­tims and the state that has not made them “dis­ap­pear,” also frown upon and dele­git­imize, morally and so­cially, those who sus­tain this de­spi­ca­ble net­work of pros­ti­tu­tion? Is Greek so­ci­ety pre­pared to see the pe­nal­iza­tion of the clients?

The po­lice are ready to chase them away at any given mo­ment. But where will they go? It is the sit­u­a­tion in the cen­ter that brought them there; they did not cre­ate it. They are sick peo­ple who need mul­ti­fac­eted med­i­cal care and psy­cho­log­i­cal sup­port. At the same time, lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties go up in arms when­ever it is said that spe­cial clin­ics will be opened at lo­cal hos­pi­tals to care for these young peo­ple, our chil­dren. Would they re­act if, in­stead of a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion clinic, the hos­pi­tal hosted an on­col­ogy ward? Drug ad­dicts suf­fer from ill­nesses that are re­lated to their life­style and to the meth­ods they use to take drugs. They need to have reg­u­lar hos­pi­tal care. This would also dis­perse the pop­u­la­tion of drug users and end the phe­nom­e­non of them gather­ing in one cen­tral lo­ca­tion, and ev­ery­thing else this en­tails. The cre­ation of such clin­ics in the coun­try’s hos­pi­tals is fi­nan­cially vi­able, but when MPs, may­ors and other lo­cal lead­ers protest out­side the hos­pi­tals and spread fear, what chances does it have? At the two main ar­eas the phe­nom­e­non has be­come more or less re­stricted to, the po­lice are not al­lowed to in­ter­vene be­cause these ar­eas are pro­tected by the univer­sity asy­lum law. In one case, out­side the Athens Univer­sity of Busi­ness and Eco­nom­ics [on Patis­sion Street], so-called an­ar­chists not only of­fer il­le­gal street traders pro­tec­tion within the univer­sity grounds, but even pro­tect them by at­tack­ing po­lice of­fi­cers ev­ery time they try to con­trol the sit­u­a­tion. Re­form of the univer­sity asy­lum law re­quires so­cial con­sent. Here too we must note that the boot­leg mer­chants are there be­cause they have cus­tomers and these are mostly Greeks, not il­le­gal im­mi­grants. Don’t the buy­ers have any re­spon­si­bil­ity? Is Greek so­ci­ety pre­pared to pass on part of the legal re­spon­si­bil­ity to the con­sumer, with ev­ery­thing that this means? Hous­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants is a tax­a­tion crime. Col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the fi­nan­cial crimes squad (SDOE), the po­lice, and mu­nic­i­pal and re­gional authorities has al­ready led to a num­ber of fines be­ing is­sued. The means avail­able to the po­lice are fi­nite. Thanks to a se­ries of mea­sures im­ple­mented by the gov­ern­ment, over 5,000 of­fi­cers have al­ready been trans­ferred from desk jobs to ac­tive duty. Move­ments such as the protests [against a land­fill] in Ker­atea and the In­dig­nants [on Syn­tagma Square] have an enor­mous fi­nan­cial cost (the Ker­atea “up­ris­ing” cost 2.4 mil­lion eu­ros) and ex­haust the po­lice’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties in terms of man­power and equip­ment. Ev­ery lo­cal “up­ris­ing” re­duces the forces that the Greek po­lice can as­sign to the pro­tec­tion of cit­i­zens. Greece is not, and should not be­come, a po­lice state. Now es­pe­cially, there are no funds to hire thou­sands of new of­fi­cers or to pur­chase new equip­ment. Ev­ery pa­trol car that is set on fire, ev­ery act of van­dal­ism is paid for by tax­pay­ers and, es­pe­cially in this pe­riod, can­not be eas­ily re­placed. The cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in cen­tral Athens can­not change overnight.

Tositsa Street (above left), which runs along­side the Na­tional Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Mu­seum in Athens, is a no­to­ri­ous hang­out for drug users and deal­ers. Above right: Il­le­gal im­mi­grants hud­dled in the street af­ter be­ing ejected by po­lice from a squat near cen­tral Omo­nia Square.

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