By the Autonomous Balkan Informbureau / April 2015
„We are on hunger strike. Close Paranesti camp. Bring liberty to obtain documents on our names. Being free is the natural right of a human being. We have to go on hunger strike for our request to the greek government. Being free is our human right that should belong to us. To go un hunger strike is to strike out on our freedom. Death is to continue strike. Or death or freedom.“
Declaration of the hunger-striking migrants1
While in Greece the final phase of the hunger strike of left-wing revolutionary (17 November), anarchist (Revolutionary Struggle and Network of Imprisoned Fighters), and nihilist (Conspiracy of the Fire Cells) prisoners is ongoing2, getting a lot of attention in Germany especially from fans of the fire cells, another important struggle goes unnoticed in mainstream as well as movement media. On 23 March 23 migrants incarcerated in the camp3 of Paranesti near Drama in Northern Greece went on hunger strike. Their demands are: closing down of the camp of Paranesti, release and papers. Their hunger strike continues to this day (as of 04.04.2015) and represents thus the hitherto longest hunger strike of migrants in one of the Greek camps. In the following text we’ll report on the hunger strike, give the context and call for actions of solidarity.
New Government, Same Struggles
In Germany, a lot of left-wing and radical left-wing groups have made a lot of fuss and written a lot of nonsense with regard to Syriza. It was asserted that in Syriza „the solidarity with migrants and refugees had found a place“4 and new Syriza Alternate Minister of Immigration Policy Tasia Christodoulopoulou was praised for her „good relations with the Greek antiracist movement.“5 Interestingly enough, the very same day that migrants in Paranesti went on hunger strike she laid it on the line that the camps were not to be closed down6 and only a few days later Yiannis Panousis, the Independent Alternate Minister of Citizen Protection, declared that the country did not endure any more migrants and that the camps were not only not to be closed down but that odds are that they may even be refilled.7 All those, who long have been fighting alongside migrants and refugees did not even have to wait for the official statements. The way in which Syriza had reacted in the matter of migration policy in mid-Februay, after two suicides of migrants and one death because of denied medical care in camps and police stations respectively and an uprising in Amygdaleza camp had occured, had brought home to everyone that Syriza does not pursue an antiracist policy but merely manages the migrant population of Greece in a somewhat different way.
In reaction to the uprising in Amygdaleza camp, Panousis had announced to close it down within 100 (!) days and started to gradually release some few migrants. After that the governemnt issued their plans regarding their migration policy. Step by step all migrants detained for longer than 6 months are to be released (as opposed to the up to 18 months of detention and even longer until now). Upon their relase they’ll get a paper postponing their deportation for a period of six months. In case they are arrested upon illegal border crossing they’ll receive – as before – another paper that gives them a month to leave the country. If they are arrested once again within this month they will be given yet another paper granting them another half a year to leave Greece. After that, they’ll find themselves in the same unclear and precarious situation in which they have already been living over the last years. The camps remain in place and the practice not to deport migrants but to enforce their border crossing „on their own“ – through the profitable smuggling industry, of course – via the unbearable pressure of police brutality, fascist terror, and poverty continues. As compared to the peak of racist state policies from 2011 to 2013 the situation has improved somewhat.8
This is, however, not at all a radical policy change by an allegedly antiracist left-wing government but merely the continuation of the paradigm shift in the state management of the migrant population that had been made already before the elections. Already the New Democracy administration had started to gradually release migrants from the camps and in October 2014 closed down the camp at Komotini.9 As early as in late 2013, the police union had demanded the transformation of the camps into proper EU-financed reception centres.10 The camps themselves had been set up in 2012 as a means in the management of the militant mass mobilisations against the austerity measures. By creating and scapegoating an internal enemny, by imposing a state of emergency on them, by the expansion and fascisation of the police apparatus and the building up of Golden Dawn as deep state the threat of the crisis-ridden capitalist order by the emerging social movements could be parried off by the state.11 With the restabilisation of the political situation and the demobilisation of the movements as of 2013 the camps lost their function. The difference is that now Syriza, unlike New Democracy, is not releasing migrants on the quiet but is making a lot of fuss about the adaption of the migration policy of the state to the new situation.
The Hunger Strike of Paranesti
It is in this context that the hunger strike of Paranesti takes places. Paranesti camp is part of the system of camps that was set up in 2012 by the then New Democracy government. If you want to call them concentration camps, as comrades in Greece do, or not is of secondary importance. As a matter of fact the Greek camps have strong similarities with the historical institution of the concentration camp: They are extralegal zones in which a basically innocent part of the population is incarcerated and subject to a permanent state of emergency which degrades and dehumanises the internees. Self-harm, suicide and deaths because of denied medical care belong to normalcy. Currently, at Paranesti camp over 210 people are detained, about 80 of which are minors and many for more than 9 months. The camp is surrounded by three barbed wire fences including searchlights, the different sections are separated from each other by barbed wire fences, too, even the roofs of the containers in which the migrants are accomodated are rendered inaccessible by barbed wire. The camps are under constant police control who harass and terrorise the detained migrants. Living and housing conditions are beneath human dignity.
It is here, then, that on 23 March 23 migrants went on hunger strike. They declared to fast until the closing down of the camp and their being released or until death. Therefore, during the first days, they were harassed by cops, isolated in a separate section and threatened to be split up and spread in various other camps. Ever since the solidarity from the anarchist/antiauthoriatiarn movement became noticeable the authorities took up a more cautious stance. In comparison to the hunger strike of the prisoners in jails conditions are much harsher. The migrants are isolated, don’t have a network spanning across other camps, only little solidarity from outside, no media attention, no money and are generally subject to much tougher living conditions. Against all these odds, they have been continuing their resistance and hunger strike already the 13th day.
Solidarity and Common Struggles!
From the very first day the hunger-striking migrants were supported by antiracist groups from the anarchist/antiauthoritarian movement of Thessaloniki and Drama. Comrades, movement-affiliated lawyers and doctors went to Paranesti to see them and several actions of solidarity took place. On 29 March, a group of antiracists showed their solidarity with the hunger strikers and all other migrants directly at the fence of the camp. In Thessaloniki protests were staged, leaflets distributed and posters put up. Yesterday, on 3 April 2015, a march with about 150 people and organised by the No-Lager Assembly took place in Thessaloniki. Left-wing, Syriza- or Antarsya-affiliated, antiracist organisations such as KEERFA dont participate in all of this.
This hunger strike is not the first visible resistance inside the camps since the beginning of the patriotic Syriza-ANEL government. On 13 February, after the suicide of a migrant in Amygdaleza camp, an uprising broke out.12 In Corinth camp, on 16 March, a hunger strike of 300 migrants took place13 and, on 24 March, three-four migrants clambered onto the roof and threatened to kill themselves.14 From 19-20 March, at Lithi police station near Thessaloniki, around 17 minors had went on hunger strike.15
In all of this, it is clear that our solidarity with migrants is not based on pity neither on humanism, nor is it a generous gesture towards those „poor devils“, but were are in solidarity with migrants as the most precarious and vulnerable part of the working class, as our class siblings. Their struggle against the inhuman camp system, against European racism and colonialism is central to the struggle for the liberation of all of us from the rule of state and capital.
We call on comrades and antiracists everywhere and especially in Germany, where one of the strongest and most combative antiracist movements and self-organisations of migrants and refugees exists, to immediately do actions of solidarity of any kind in support of the hunger strike at Paranesti and its demands. Let’s finally put an end to the drivel of „critical solidarity“ with Syriza and support the struggle of migrants – not with, but against the left-wing government!
Solidarity with the hunger-striking migrants at Paranesti camp!
Together with the migrants, let’s tear down the camps!
1Ανακοίνωση των μεταναστών απεργών πείνας στο Παρανέστι, 26.03.2015, URL: http://nolagerthess.espivblogs.net/2015/03/26/ανακοίνωση-των-μεταναστών-απεργών-πε/
3We use the term „camp“ in the same way, the term „Lager“ is used by the self-organised movement of refugees and migrants in Germany in order to refer to the European so-called „detention centers for immigrants“. It makes reference both to the concentration camps of European colonial powers in in their colonies and of Nazi Germany later in Europe, thus pointing to the historical continuity of this institution, without equating today’s camps to their historical predecessors in terms of living conditions, mortality rate, and others.
4Interventionistische Linke: Keine Unterwerfung. Eine Antwort auf Paris liegt in Athen. Eine (2.) Mitteilung der Interventionistischen Linken (IL)., 18.01.2015, URL: http://interventionistische-linke.org/beitrag/keine-unterwerfung-eine-antwort-auf-paris-liegt-athen
5Kasparek, Bernd: Bernd Kasparek aus Athen, 28.01.2015, URL: http://blockupy-goes-athens.tumblr.com/post/109502839980/bernd-kasparek-aus-athen
7Πανούσης: Πιθανόν να ξαναγεμίσουν τα Κέντρα Κράτησης Μεταναστών, 27.03.2015, URL: http://www.newsit.gr/ellada/panousis-kentra-kratisis-metanastwn-2703/386207
8Clandestina: Greek government reveals plans for undocumented immigrants, 03.03.2015, URL: https://clandestinenglish.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/greek-government-reveals-plans-for-undocumented-immigrants/
9Κλείνει το Κέντρο Κράτησης Μεταναστών στην Κομοτηνή. Δικαίωση των αγώνων φορέων, αστυνομικών και πολιτών της Κομοτηνής, 02.10.2014, URL: http://www.eleftherovima.gr/police/13523-kleinei-to-kentro-kratisis-metanaston-stin-komotini-dikaiosi-ton-agonon-foreon-astynomikon-kai-politon-tis-komotinis
10Φωτόπουλος, Χρήστος: Παρέμβαση του Προέδρου της ΠΟΑΣΥ κ. Χρήστου Φωτόπουλου για την ανάγκη βελτίωσης των συνθηκών κράτησης, από τη σκοπιά των εργασιακών δικαιωμάτων των αστυνομικών υπαλλήλων, 17.12.2013, URL: http://www.poasy.gr/web/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1611:paremvasi-proedrou-poasy-stin-12i-ethniki-stroggyli-trapeza-kata-twn-diakrisewn&catid=47:ola-ta-arthra&Itemid=99
11Clandestina: CONCENTRATION CAMPS: the return of totalitarianism, 23.02.2014, URL: https://clandestinenglish.wordpress.com/2014/02/23/concentration-camps-the-return-of-totalitarianism/
13ΚΕΕΡΦΑ: Μαζική απεργία πείνας στο στρατόπεδο συγκέντρωσης μεταναστών Κορίνθου, 16.03.2015, URL: www.antiracismfascism.org/index.php/actions/frontex/item/1207-maziki-apergia-peinas-sto-stratopedo-sygkentrosis-metanaston-korinthou
14Εντάσεις στα κέντρα κράτησης μεταναστών σύμφωνα με οργανώσεις, 24.03.2015, URL: http://www.efsyn.gr/arthro/entaseis-sta-kentra-kratisis-metanaston-symfona-me-organoseis-0
15Hunger strike of unaccompanied minors in Lithi police station, 20.03.2015, URL: http://infomobile.w2eu.net/2015/03/20/hunger-strike-of-unaccompanied-minors-in-lithi-police-station/