Athens, November 23, 2014 – It’s been the fifth consecutive day that almost 300 Syrian refugees have been holding a sit-in outside the Greek parliament, in a peaceful protest, calling for asylum and solidarity.
The refugees’ movement and their demands
It’s been longer than a month that an increasing number of Syrian refugees have been in Athens, wandering in the streets and spending their nights in one of the few open spaces in the city, the so called Pedion Areos. On Wednesday, 19 November, women, men and children organized a protest at Syntagma square demanding what the international law defines their rights: asylum and human reception conditions. Since that day they have remained at the square, with the fragmentary support of the local society. They have submitted a resolution to the Greek parliament demanding travelling documents which will allow them to leave the country, the basic refugee rights i.e. shelter, food, access to health services, working permission, access to education and family reunification, and transfer to countries which are officially eager to receive refugees from Syria.
The Greek state’s response
Despite the duration of the mobilization and the vulnerability of the protesters, the Greek state has taken literally no action to deal with the issue. There has been no official public response to the refugees’ resolution and no initiative has been shown even for the transfer of these people to a shelter. The general secretary of the Ministry of Interior is the only member of the government who has commented on the issue. However, his statements refer to nothing more than the inability of the state to assist the refugees in any way and to indirect threats that they will be forced to leave Syntagma square by the police. The same inertia is shown by the authorities at the municipality and the regional level. The only political initiatives shown until now is a relative complaint to the ministries of labour, interior, civil protection and health submitted by four members of the main opposition party and the symbolic presence of other members of the party at the square.
Fragmentary response by the local society
The society doesn’t seem to respond to the refugees’ movement in a collectively organized way. Apart from immigrants’ organizations who have been standing by the refugees since the first moment, there have been only a few local collectives and individuals who have visited the square in solidarity to the protesters. The local media systematically remain silent and the information circulation takes place mainly via the social media and the hashtag #syrianrefugeesgr.
Greek state – a European state
Reading the story, it’s easy for someone to conclude that this is a typical example of the Greek state’s tactics. The convictions of Greece for human rights violations by the European Court mentioned before the violations of human rights in Greece and the list continues with the reports of international medical organizations for the inhuman conditions inside the detention centers. The Greek government suspended the Dublin II convention because of its inability to secure the safety of immigrants and refugees, which is more or less known among the people interested in global migration and human rights. However, such an approach is rather superficial. Undoubtedly, the Greek state is responsible for its stance towards the protesting (and not only) refugees and asylum seekers, but the European Union has a responsibility as well. Only some months ago Mr. Dimitris Avramopoulos, a Greek politician, was assigned Commissioner for Immigration and European Citizenship. What was really the symbolic message of this choice? How should we interpret Mr. Avramopoulos’ reluctance to make even a statement about the refugees’ demonstration in his own country? Is it only Greece and its media that turn a blind eye to the issue or is it the whole Union?
Mediterranean Sea has transformed into the most dangerous border between countries that are not at war with each other. Despite rescuing operations like Mare Nostrum, the probability of dying at sea on irregular maritime routes reached its climax in September 2014. On November 1st, Frontex launched the joint operation Triton, which costs 2,9 million euro per month, at the territorial waters of Italy. This guarantees less asylum seekers in Italy, but also more dead people at the sea at alternative entrance points including the Greek maritime borders. Despite the calls by international humanitarian organization for adopting a human rights oriented immigration policy, European authorities continue having border surveillance as their first priority, continue being absent from refugees camps within war zones, continue refusing a legal path to Europe. Still, this Union seems as the only solution at the eyes of displaced people from Middle East and other regions whose number increases day by day. Whether they enter from Greece, Italy or Spain, they enter Europe. Whether they demonstrate in Athens, Rome or Madrid their voices should spread across the Union from the South to the North.