Migration and Struggle in Greece

Lampedusa is not the only death zone, concentration camps are not a nightmare buried in the past

Posted by clandestina on 23 February 2014

Lampedusa is not the only death zone,
concentration camps are not a nightmare buried in the past

dates and numbers in the Greek Guantanamo calendar…


August 4, 2012

On August 4th, Greek institutional racism celebrated the anniversary of the 1936 military dictatorship by launching the “Xenios Zeus” operation, a spectacular celebration of mass arrests of sans-papiers in the center of Athens… The police operation was named “Xenios Zeus” (what a wicked sense of humor!), after the god who protected strangers in Ancient Greece. The reasons justifying the operation went back to some contested conception of Bronze Age history: “From the Dorian invasion, 4,000 years ago, the country has never accepted such a large scale invasion … migration might be a bigger problem than the economic crisis” (Nikos Dendias, Minister of Public Order, August 4, 2012).

7,000: The number of sans-papiers immigrants currently detained in concentration camps in Greece. To that should be added an unreported number of undocumented imprisonments of migrants in police stations throughout the country.

77,526: The number of immigrants captured by the Greek police since the beginning of the “Xenios Zeus” police operation, in the city of Athens only. The vast majority of them were “legal” immigrants, the number of undocumented migrants who were actually arrested in Athens is 4.435. This is a huge, military-style manhunt, in every sense of the term.

The Greek “Guantanamo system”: The concentration camps in function at the moment in Greece [some of them actually built as detention centers, some of them used informally as prisons, among which some are former military barracks, some police academy facilities, some police stations] are the following: in the Evros region (near the Greek-Turkish land borders) there are camps in Tychero, Feres, Soufli and Fylakio (this latter one is the only one actually built to be a detention center). Also in the Thrace region, in the towns of Komotini and Xanthi, former Police Academies are being used as detention centers. Between Xanthi and Komotini there is the Venna detention center, a former grain depot, again under no legal status, which has been used for many years to store “human garbage”. Not far away there is the concentration camp at Paranesti, Drama, at a former military barrack . Former military barracks are turned into concentration camps in Corinth (on the Peloponnese) and on Mytilene (in the Aegean). Also in the Aegean, new detention centers have been set up on the islands of Chios (in Mersinidi) and Samos (in Vathi). Police facilities are used as a huge concentration camp in Amygdaleza (outside Athens).

The only official police detention centers for the undocumented exist in Athens (Petrou Ralli street) and in Thessaloniki. However, many police stations are unofficially used for the detention of immigrants throughout the country. In the majority of these detention centers, the immigrants held are the ones arrested since the launching of the “Xenios Zeus” operation (mainly in Athens). In the past years, detention centers in the Evros region were used for the sans-papiers crossing the Greek-Turkish land borders, but now this is no longer the case, as their number has dropped dramatically. So, in those camps now there are held mostly undocumented migrants arrested in Athens. With one exception: in the Aegean, the undocumented detainees in the camps are mainly recent incomers, mostly refugees from the war in Syria.

Legal status of the camps: None. These are neither “screening centers” to check the accuracy of the arguments of asylum seekers, nor “open support centers” for refugees granted asylum status. They are not deportation centers for the ones whose deportation is underway (many of the undocumented held in the camps are war refugees and cannot be deported anyway). These are just black holes for the “subhumans” and an example for the rest of society.

In the past, undocumented migrants entering Greece were kept for some days in detention centers (mainly in the borders areas) and then they were given a piece of paper that was offering them a “legal” one-month deadline to leave Greece by their own accord. Holding this paper, they would head to Athens and would get trapped in the trafficking/smugglers’ mafia circuits who were promising them a way out of Greece. Immigrants making an asylum petition were kept more in the border detention centers, up to 3 months, as a form of punishment. Then they would also go to Athens. This has changed.

Now the majority of the undocumented held in detention centers are people arrested during the “Xenios Zeus” police operation. Many of them have been in the detention centers for almost a year and a half. We call the detention centers “concentration camps” because that is what they are. Not for the unbearable conditions, this has always been the case, but because they have been publicly announced as the place, both symbolic and real, where the “unnecessary ones”, “people without rights” (an ever-expanding concept) are being discarded. Since the summer of 2012 we live under a publicly announced state of emergency, a openly    confessed imposition of the politics of exception. This, together with the construction of a “fascist movement”, has been the answer of the ruling elites to the public unrest that the crisis has been generating.

80%: The decline of the number of undocumented migrants entering Greece since the beginning of the capitalist attack known as “the crisis”. In 2008 more than 120.000 sans papiers crossed the Greek borders. This number had already fallen to 40-50.000 by 2012. After the launching of  the “Xenios Zeus” operation in Greek cities and the “Aspida” (=Shield) operation in the Evros region, this number has fallen bellow 20.000. In other words, the number of undocumented migrants entering Greek territory had been in sharp decline before the launching of the anti-immigrant police operations. The decrease in the number of undocumented migrants entering Greece and the increase of immigrants leaving Greece is not due to “anti-immigrant policies”.  It is the effect of planned economic disaster.

30,000-400,000: The number of “legal” immigrants offered the big opportunity to legally leave Greece (many of them have lived here for more than two decades). The new Greek “Immigration Code” attempts to regulate “legal” immigrants who, in the new context of the devaluation of the workforce, are seen as useless labour overaccumulation. So now  they are offered a 5-year legal status, in exchange for their expressed will to leave Greece and go work in another E.U. country. Greeks are now meant to occupy the position and the social status of immigrant workers. Both fascists and neoliberals agree on this: Cheap workforce without rights is now the option “for Greeks only”.

50.7%: The percentage of policemen voting for the nazi party in the May 2012 elections in the special voting center for the (militarized) police motorcycle units (“Dias”, “Delta” and “Zeta” squads) in Athens. If you add to this the 12.5% of them that voted for the populist far-right party “Independent Greeks” and the 5% that voted for the Le Pen style party “LAOS”, you get a clear idea. The relevant percentages in the riot police voting center in Athens are: 46.7% for the nazi party, 10.7% for “Independent Greeks” and 5.5% for “LAOS”. In the case of the riot police units, the interesting info is that 8.4% of them voted for the Communist Party (only 2.5% in the motorcycle units), possibly because they appreciated the Party’s stance in mass demonstrations between 2008-2012. In the last few years, the Greek government has organized a massive recruitment of people eager to work in the police – both for financial and ideological reasons: getting paid to be a legal fascist is now a double fantasy come true. We know from comrades in Spain that the same thing has happened in their country.

Antiracism? We quote:Police stations throughout the country have turned into ‘warehouses for human souls’, the conditions have been described as tragic, and as violating both international rules and Greek laws. The E.U. has always offered help, but the Greek State has not been willing to fully exploit it. Now the country needs to make the most of the 230 million Euros the E.U. is offering. It would be ‘desirable’ that this money be used to create modern hosting facilities, with distinctive places for criminals and the undocumented, regular access to a courtyard, natural lighting, proper food and regular medical checks. In a nowadays unacceptable status, health and safety regulations are not respected, and we often have unacceptable and arbitrary police behavior. This is exactly what is expected to happen when the State itself stacks human souls for a long time in inappropriate places, without any interest to satisfy the minimum human needs“. Is this part of the proposals on the “issue of immigration” of a progressive Greek political party? No, the above words were spoken on December 12, 2013, by the President of the Panhellenic Federation of Police Officers in the 12th National Roundtable Against Discrimination. The “police unionist” also proposed hiring immigrants in the police force, adding that “…it might be useful to try to record the situation and demands of the thousands of foreigners already detained in detention centers. To make a survey to see how many they actually are, as well as why and where they want to live. Instead of trying to persuade them to return to their country, wouldn’t it be easier to guide them towards a better opportunity in another European country where already other members of their families are living?“.

While there are radical voices within Syriza that go a lot further, the police unionist’s proposals are more or less similar to those of the dominant part of Greek institutional Left parties. If the institutional Left form the next Greek government, they might indeed shut down the concentration camps, but not necessarily as part of a politics of respect of human dignity and basic rights, but in order to harmonize Greek policy with E.U. legislation, by putting the EU money to good use, opening more proper detention facilities, and satisfying the demands of the Greek police and their more conservative voters along the way. Indeed, a part of the institutional Left in Greece is speaking in favor of the same system that radical movements throughout Europe are fighting against.

As for the sudden awakening of Greek Police “unionists”, it is not entirely incomprehensible: The Greek government announced that surveillance of the detention centers will be handed to private security companies. And this is not the only case: all the Greek security personnel hired to protect the (Canadian-owned) goldmine to be built in Chalkidiki will be fired – the gold corporation is contracting the infamous international mercenary company formerly known as Blackwater for this purpose. Greek Police “unionists” look to the future: if immigrants abandon Greece en masse, policemen will lose their role as “human hunters” – as well as the bonuses they get thanks to the existence of the huge trafficking/smuggling mafia complex. The “modern hosting facilities” suggested are career opportunities: they will be upgraded from human-hunters to human-keepers.

But let’s return to the present: the Greek Guantanamo system is in full function, destroying thousands of lives and pushing Greek society towards totalitarianism. In the possibly incomplete data below, you can have an idea of what we are talking about.



Riots, hunger strikes and death in the camps after the launching of “Xenios Zeus” operation

September 24, 2012
45 immigrants go on hunger strike at the Xanthi detention center when they learn that their detention will be prolonged for six more months. The hunger strike ended on September 28, when the authorities reassured the immigrants that they will not be kept any longer, a promise the authorities did not keep.

November 17, 2012
Hundreds of immigrants held in various detention centers go on hunger strike protesting the mistreatment of Navit Yasser, a detention center inmate who died after being denied medical care although he was in poor health.

November 18, 2012
A riot starts at the Corinth detention center, where 800 immigrants are kept prisoners. The riot was suppressed by riot police forces who have been stationed outside the detention center ever since. 10 immigrants were injured and 24 arrested.

November 23, 2012
A large riot starts at the Komotini detention center, where 500 immigrants are kept in the former Police Academy of Komotini. The detainees started by shouting slogans and smashing objects, then they started burning mattresses and attacking the police. The riot was suppressed by riot police forces.

December 4, 2012
A riot starts at the Amygdaleza detention center. The riot ends after negotiations with the authorities.

December 5, 2012
A riot starts at the Fylakio detention center. Protests by a group of prisoners escalated to a riot, suppressed by riot police.

January 1, 2013
After the brutal beating of a minor, 15 children immigrants go on hunger strike at the Amygdaleza detention center.

February 7, 2013
A riot breaks at the Fylakio detention center, because of the prolongation of detention. Many immigrants were arrested and 8 of them received what the cops called an “exemplary punishment”.

February 12, 2013
Detained immigrants go on hunger strike at the Nikaea Police Station (in Athens) protesting their filthy treatment and the beating up of an immigrant by a policeman. The hunger strike was suppressed with brutal beatings and by transferring the hunger strikers to other police departments.

February 21, 2013
A hunger strike starts at the Amygdaleza detention centre. The hunger strike was brutally suppressed on February 23 by the riot police.

March 7, 2013
A riot is attempted at the Fylakio detention centre, and is immediately suppressed by riot police.

March 28, 2013
2 immigrants threaten to commit suicide from the roof of the Corinth detention center.

April 7, 2013
3 immigrants try to commit suicide at the Amygdaleza detention center. The next day (April 8) about 1,000 migrants go on hunger strike at Amygdaleza.

April 9, 2013
Hundreds of migrants detained in various camps and police stations join the Amygdaleza hunger strike. In 24 hours the hunger strike spreads throughout the country, with about 1,800 immigrants participating.

April 10, 2013
Riot police enter the Corinth detention center, where there are immigrants participating in the nation-wide hunger strike. Riot police use teargas against the hunger strikers and arrest 47 of them. After this event, the hunger strike gradually  ceases in all detention centers.

June 23, 2013
A 20-year-old immigrant from the Ivory Coast commits suicide in the police station of Grevena, where he was held to be deported.

July 12, 2013
A 26-year-old immigrant from Pakistan hangs himself and dies in the toilet of the Servia – Kozani police station. He was arrested just because he didn’t have the proper documents.

July 27, 2013
Mohammad Hassan, an Afghan refugee suffering from a respiratory infection, dies in the concentration camp in Corinth, after being denied transfer to a hospital for eleven months.

August 10, 2013
A big revolt takes place at the Amygdaleza detention center when the arrested learn that their imprisonment will be prolonged again: now from 12 to 18 months. The immigrants torch the containers where they were being kept, attack the wardens with plastic bottles and gravel, try to break the iron doors and fences and ten of them find a way out of what they call the “Greek Guantanamo”. Many immigrants are arrested and dispersed to various prisons across the country.

August 24, 2013
A refugee from Afghanistan tries to kill himself, jumping from a second floor window at the Corinth detention center.

August 27, 2013
400 immigrants held at the Orestiada detention center go on hunger strike when they learn that their imprisonment will be prolonged from 12 to 18 months.

In the last 3-4 months, there have been dozens of suicide attempts within the detention centers and many incidents of protest, reaction and repression have been systematically concealed by the police and the government. In the last two years there have been hundreds of deaths in the Aegean and the Ionian seas, there have been hundreds of attacks on immigrants by fascists, amongst them three confirmed murders.

2 Responses to “Lampedusa is not the only death zone, concentration camps are not a nightmare buried in the past”

  1. […] Lampedusa is not the only death zone, concentration camps are not a nightmare buried in the past Lampedusa is not the only death zone, concentration camps are not a nightmare buried in […]

  2. […] “Lampedusa is not the only death zone, concentration camps are not a nightmare buried in the past… (January 2014) […]

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