Migrants’ Strike Tests Greek Govt

Posted by admin on Feb 4th, 2011

By Apostolis Fotiadis, IPS, Feb. 4 2011

A hunger strike by migrants is emerging as a test case for how far migrants can go to fight for rights, and how far the government can go to clamp down on them. On Jan. 25, about 200 immigrants living in Greece entered a faculty building at Athens University Law School and declared that they would hunger strike until their demands were met. The strike shows no signs of coming to an end, but Greek authorities are not sitting idly by.

Supported by extreme leftist organisations, the immigrants, most of whom hail from the Maghreb countries of northern Africa, are striking in hopes of achieving regularisation of working rights for all immigrants in the country, regardless of legal status. Approximately 50 others have joined the strike in the northern city of Thessaloniki.

“We live in darkness, and this is something the law and the state tolerate?” asked one striker, Abdul Hatzi, from Tunisia, who has lived in Greece for 18 years. Eight years ago, Hatzi failed to renew his residence permit and became an undocumented migrant.

“Greece, as a member of Europe, is responsible for what happens to us,” Hatzi said. “Europe has supported regimes that impoverished our countries in Northern Africa and participated in wars that destroyed societies. Now they treat us like we are a threat. We are not.

“We only ask to be free and live dissent lives. Greece needs to change its migration politics… starting from abandoning the Dublin agreement,” he added.

Under the Dublin II regulation, asylum applicants must register in the first country where they come in contact with authorities. Following registration, it then becomes the country’s responsibility to assess each individual’s status forever after. Under the law, any person who moves to another country from the one of original entrance may be sent back to the country where he or she was initially registered.

Dublin II has been widely criticised by human rights activists as a device that raises the walls of ‘Fortress Europe’ and allows developed states to reduce their share of the responsibility of immigrant populations at the expense of border states.

Since the beginning of the strike, authorities and mainstream media have presented the event as an isolated move of radicals, choosing not to highlight the fact that migration and asylum issues are reaching a fever pitch in this polarised society. The majority of the coverage has focused on the use of university space as the site for the strike.

Under enormous pressure from media and a threat of evacuation by police, the hunger strikers were pressured to move into another building downtown, where they now reside in inappropriate conditions.

Universities are a no-go zone for Greek police authorities, unless the principal committee invites them to intervene. University ‘asylum’ is a symbolic right originating from a student-led struggle against the military junta during the 1970s. The policy is defended feverishly by left-wing forces and attacked by right-wing groups that clamour for its abolition.

On Jan. 31, in a uniquely aggressive move by Greek standards, a prosecutor called in the rector of the law school and eight pro-migrant activists from the solidarity committee for questioning on grounds of neglect of responsibility, in the case of the former, and possible involvement in trafficking, in the case of the latter.

In response, the solidarity committee released an open letter to judicial authorities and the Interior Ministry, which read, “We proudly, voluntarily, and publicly inform you that the undersigned have… supported by any means possible these people and willingly accept all political and social responsibility that occurs from our ethical commitment to their struggle. We deny though any accusation related to ‘instigation’.

“The idea and execution of the hunger strike lies with the migrants,” the letter read. “However unimaginable for your racist stereotypes this seems, non- Europeans are also able to critically and collectively organise their own political struggles.”

Greek authorities are extremely concerned about polarisation over migration as many countries from which immigrants hail, such as the Maghreb states and Egypt are undergoing enormous political upheaval. The controversy has evolved into a crisis ever since a massive influx of immigrants arrived in the country through the Greek Turkish Aegean naval border in 2008.

During the last two years, Greece has been repeatedly chastised for failing to respect human rights and offer international protection to refugees. Its asylum system has collapsed, letting a backlog of more than 47,000 applications accumulate. Less than 0.3 percent of them have been offered protection.

The government passed a new asylum law last month and is now struggling to put in place human and institutional infrastructure to deal with the issue. It is not clear how -and if – the system will function. (END)

Comments are closed.