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|9/28: Anarchists Have Taken Over a Building in Athens to House Refugees
Released 15 October 2015  By Melpomeni Maragkidou - Vice
Anarchists Have Taken Over a Building in Athens to House Refugees
Melpomeni Maragkidou - Vice
September 28, 2015
This article originally appeared on VICE Greece.
A huge banner reading "Refugees Welcome Home" is draped across the front of
a derelict building in Exarchia, Athens--a district that's generally
regarded as the spiritual home to the city's anarchist movement. On Tuesday
morning, members of the Anti-authoritarian Movement Athens (AK) occupied a
former university dining hall, with the aim of transforming it into a
temporary residence for refugees. They want to fix up the space and make it
fit to accommodate refugee and migrant families arriving in Athens.
Crossing a rubble-strewn courtyard, I entered the building to find members
of AK making plans for an open meeting later that day. They offered to show
me around and explained that before any refugees can be housed, they'll need
to work together to clean, disinfect and make the place habitable. The truth
is that it'll take a hell of a lot of time and effort because at the moment
it's just a building site. The three floors are vast and empty. The ground
level consists of a sort of living room, plus what's left of the old kitchen
and bathrooms. The first and second floor will accommodate the families,
while there are also plans to turn the basement into a storage area. Once
complete, it's estimated that the building will accommodate up to 200
"As the refugee crisis worsens, we took the initiative to seize the old
student club on Arachovis Street and turn it into housing for refugees and
migrants. There have been some positive developments in regards to the
situation on behalf of the state, but we need the citizens to show real
solidarity," AK note on their website.
One of the activists helping out at the site told me: "We came in the
morning and took over the building. We don't want this to be a charity
initiative or a soup kitchen. We want the space to be run by the migrants
and refugees themselves. We can help meet their basic needs but they will
need to cook and clean on their own, as if they were at home." This project
isn't the only of its kind in Greece and AK members aim to connect with
similar movements across Greece and the rest of Europe.
Are they worried the neighbours might object to their plans? "We're not
concerned about the neighbourhood's reaction. Sure, there might be a few who
don't agree, but the alternative makeup of Exarcheia makes it a good fit to
accommodate people of different cultures. We're talking about refugees
fleeing war zones--people who have endured terrible conditions. Even the
coldest heart must be touched by that," another activist assured me.
Watch: Migrants and Refugees Test Lesbos' Limits, from the VICE News series
Shortly after 7PM, several collectives and organisations joined members of
the public and filled the building's ground floor completely. In an open
meeting of about 200 people, the next few days were planned out. Firstly,
the group would need to find the funds to cover the costs of renovation.
They also discussed other similar projects across the country and the
involvement of the migrant communities themselves. Work on the building was
due to begin the next day.
The plan is for the space to function as a stop-gap in the journey of
refugees and immigrants. The venue will be run by the refugees, who will
host their own meetings and manage the space. The activists will only act as
assistance. Once the building has been prepared, the work of actually
getting the refugees in will begin. If people are as willing to help as they
claimed at the meeting, the building could be ready in as few as three days.
Even though politicians don't seem to have an answer to this crisis--no
matter how many EU summits they hold--the often maligned anarchists and
other political radicals are offering at least a temporary reprieve for
refugees. They've given up their own time and effort to help make the
journey of refugees through Athens as human as possible.
The day after I visited, many returned to the squat with tools and equipment
and the hard work began. If all goes to plan, refugees and immigrants will
have their own real home in Athens in just a few short days.
UPDATE: "This past weekend the project was relocated to Notara 26 in
Exarcheia--which also used to house a state-run company. According to the
AK, the reasons behind the move were twofold: Firstly, the new space is
safer. Secondly, they felt the problems that came up regarding the ownership
status of the previous building could result in a precarious situation for
its future occupants.
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