On January 25 2011 300 immigrant workers left Crete for Athens to protest against their treatment by the Greek government. Anti-racist NGOs and left wing youth organizations assisted them in finding a location in Athens from which to launch their protest against one more measure aiming at their further marginalization: till the 1st of January they were allowed to have labour and residence permits if they could prove that they had worked for 150 days during the current year and had paid their social security dues for that time– in 2011 these days went up to 200. This increase during a time of crisis and rabid unemployment means that they will definitely become illegal immigrants!!! The majority comes from North African countries and have been working on the island of Crete as farm laborers for six or seven years.
Upon their arrival and in cooperation with the student body of the Law faculty of the University of Athens they were taken to the renovated and used only for official functions old building of the faculty. On the 26th they gave a press conference and started a hunger strike.
After an intense campaign of misinformation and half truths carried out by the mainstream media, for example that the Law faculty cannot carry out its functions because of the immigrants presence – there are no lessons given in the particular building; health risks were mentioned while there are doctors visiting the immigrants three times a week and medical students doing their stage visit the immigrants daily, Greek society was split between those for the immigrants and those against them.
The fact that it was turning Greek society against the immigrants forced the hunger strikers to agree to be moved to another location, privately owned, which is completely unfitting to house so many people despite its luxurious furnishings. The media still insist on presenting the “Palace” that has been chosen to house the protesters!! It is never mentioned that while the hunger strikers are on the basement and ground floors the bathrooms are on the first floor and inaccessible. The fittest are sleeping in tents in the garden vulnerable to any attack or provocation by racist and nationalist elements and exposed to bad weather and rain.
The biggest “omission” though is that it is never mentioned that the present Prime Minister was the one who signed the Dublin II Treaty where among others it was agreed that the “first entry” country is responsible for the refugee/immigrant who seeks shelter in the European Union. Given the geography of Europe it is obvious which are the countries to be hit by an immigration influx.
The situation is worsening day by day because none of the two parties involved is prepared to back down. The immigrants insist that they have nothing to lose but their lives and they are willing to do that. The government claims that it will not succumb to blackmail.
So we have a stalemate and hopefully a solution will be found to avoid loss of life.