While the world’s media is suitably distracted by the Olympic Games in Brazil, the war in Syria and beyond continues to see thousands of people – men, women and children – killed each week and many more atempting the perilous journey as refugees to seek safety. Meanwhile in the last two months there has been a deafening silience in the media about the plight of the thousands of refugees still stuck in Greece. Only 2500 refugees have so far been granted asylum status – the process is excruciatingly slow and most of those granted this status have yet to be relocated. A report by the Greek Centre for Disease Control recommended all 16 of the refugee detention centres it inspected be closed due to unsanitary conditions and poor water supply. But while the Greek authorities seem unable to move forward, grassroots activists – anarchists – have yet again taken matters into their own hands and are providing shelter and food to those in need. However, this is not charity, or the result of a philanthropic endeavour, but direct democracy in practice.
(The above video of the Shisto refugee camp was filmed by anarchists.)
Anarchists in Greece have been providing squatted accommodation – abandoned schools, hotels etc – for refugees – since the current conflicts in Syria began. And as soon as the Greek authorities organised evictions of these premises, more buildings have been squatted.
Now there is a vast network of squatted refugee centres, all organised by anarchists: an estimated 200 centres, large and small – far too many for the authorities to deal with.
Perhaps the most well known squatted refugee centre is Notara 26, in the centre of Athens. The building was first squatted last September and can house around 100 refugees at any one time. For the first three months alone, more than 1700 refugees and migrants stopped over at the centre before travelling on.
Nearby to Notara is EL CHEf, a food collective, set up in 2008 at the height of the economic collapse in Greece and now providing food not just for the homeless but refugees as well. Like Notaro, EL CHEf is not a charity, but organised by local grassroots activists.
Another food kitchen, Nosotros, which invites refugees to join them for cooking and meals, is just down the road from Notaro.
Other social centres include Micropolis and Steki Metanaston in Thessaloniki and Votanikos Kipos in Athens. There are many others.
Also, the occupied self-managed factory of Vio.Me in Thessaloniki became a warehouse for the collection, storage and transportation of basic items like clothes, sanitary items and baby food that had been gathered by solidarity collectives from all over Greece and Europe, prior to their shipment to the Eidomeni border, to be handed out to refugees.
It should be emphasised that these centres are run more like collectives, with decisions made by everyone – locals and refugees – on an equal basis. Likewise, all activities – cooking, cleaning, social events, etc – involve every person at the centre.
In short, these collectives are mini-societies, practising democracy on a day-to-day basis.
The anarchists who are organising these refugee centres do not look to the state for help, but seek to supplant the state and empower people to run their own lives. They are achieving this.
Their efforts are in stark contrast to leftists in not just Greece but everywhere who depend on the ‘goodwill’ of parliamentary politicians and parties to make society fairer. Anarchists have no truck with parliamentary ‘democracy’ and prefer direct action to achieve social justice.
Statement by Notaro 26:
Day by day thousands of people struggle to cross the borders , having to confront the rough sea conditions , the Evros fence, the smugglers, Coastguard and Frontex. Chased by the weapons of totalitarian regimes, western military operations and the horror of religious fundamentalism. Humans trying to escape from extreme poverty. Those who manage to enter Fortress Europe come face to face with states who profit from the migrant-refugee flow and the emergence of cheap labour, paying no interest to human life and dignity. They are confronted with xenophobia and racism, institutional or not. In this suffocating context, we are squatting an empty public building in Athens, 26 Notara Str., in order to territorialize our solidarity towards refugees/immigrants to cover their immediate needs (shelter, food, medical help). This project doesn’t stand for philanthropy, statal or pivate, but rather for a self-organized solidarity project, wherein locals and refugees-immigrants decide together. The decisive body is the squat’s open assembly where everyone is welcome to participate with no exclusions. Totally aware of the difficulty of our effort, we call every collective and individual not only to participate and support, but also to expand and create new projects for the same cause. We want to coordinate and interact with the numerous individual and collective initiatives throughout Greece and abroad to strengthen our solidarity to refugees and immigrants; we want to build our common future together. Let’s make the refugee’s Odyssey of survival, a journey of humanity towards freedom!
No Borders- Freedom of movement
Against Fortress Europe
Legalise immigrants – Grant asylum to refugees
Against racism and xenophobia
Against all detention centers
Against the war- No deaths for their profits