Greece has long been plagued by accusations that it treats asylum seekers inhumanely. Children are forced to live in unsanitary detention centres and migrant destitution is rife. Racist violence has soared with the rise of fascist party Golden Dawn.
However, an alternative narrative of solidarity is also being written. Across Athens, ordinary people are setting up shelters and support networks to create safe, supportive environments for migrants who have fled to Greece to escape war-torn countries, the vast majority from Syria.
Squatters have fixed up two such ‘solidarity shelters’ in Athens’ eastern district of Zografou. Moved to action by the plight of Syrian refugees, the group currently supports two families, one Syrian and one Iranian, in abandoned properties in the area. They hold weekly solidarity meetings in another local squat, ‘Mperdes’, to discuss fundraising, distribution and legal support.
As the movement grows, it is becoming more ambitious. An informal network of volunteers now includes lawyers, interpreters and advocates.
Moreover, there are tentative signs of the government adopting a more progressive approach on immigration. Syriza, sticking to its pre-election rhetoric, has recently laid out plans to close detention centres. Although such measures face opposition in a society deeply divided over immigration, there is real hope that Greece’s image as Europe’s pariah state for migrant rights may soon be out of date.