The transformations of Petrou Ralli Street, or the search for asylum in Greece
26/03/2010 by filoxenoi
The “department of foreigners” at Petrou Ralli is a reference point of the “glorious” policies of the Greek state in terms of asylum granting, as all those that follow the developments in the field know. It consists of humiliating bureaucracy, indecent treatment, endless waiting hours in queues, no sense of rationality, poor or non-existent medical care, assaults, torture and even murders.
This situation has caused some reactions and resistance. When three refugees were murdered while waiting outside the directorate, refugees and sympathizers gathered and blocked the streets, demonstrated and made the events public. After all this, the ever- efficient people in charge there came up with the solution: to transfer the entrance from Petrou Ralli street to Salamina street – “to better serve” the thousands of people that were gathering to make their applications . With regard to the process and the realities that these people were facing, absolutely nothing changed, apart from the crucial fact that they were now less visible. The Greek police – which, due to another Greek peculiarity, was responsible for the asylum granting – would be able to experiment as much as it wanted on the bodies and souls of the hundreds of refugees that had already started making the now infamous “queue of Salaminias”, hidden from the indiscreet eyes of various “curious” and “unwanted” passers-by.
In any case, one should not forget that those who managed to get to the end of the Salaminias queue all they were granted was a small paper, by which they could claim having an appointment, usually after several months, occasion at which they could file the application and then have their cases examined and decided upon. One should also not forget that “out of 15.928 asylum applications presented to Greece in 2009, only 0,04% were accepted and the refugee status was only granted to 0,06% of the cases”.
Over the last months, the immigration policy of the Greek state including the policies on asylum have being going through a process of restructuring and remodeling. One part of the restructuring, at least at an institutional level, seems to be the the law regarding the granting of Greek citizenship to second generation immigrants and the further sealing of the country’s borders.
Regarding the asylum policies, there have been up to now –always socialist- proclamations for the improvement of the process of asylum granting by assigning it to an independent commission, staffed with experts on immigration and asylum issues, interpreters etc., and with the role of the police regulated to be less important.
In the meantime, the queue has disappeared. Not because there are no people in Greece that need protection from their own countries’ regimes, but because the responsible body refuses to take more applications. In other words, whoever goes to the directorate of foreigners at Petrou Ralli, will leave empty handed, in an absurd story of Kafkaesque inspiration. As easily as that, the modern “hospitable” Greek democracy, the one springing directly out of the basic principles of the ancient Greek civilisation of Xenios Zeus, refuses to accept and register the applications for asylum (the access to which, according to the 1951 Geneva Convention on the legal status of refugees, should be undisturbed and the mere expression of seeking asylum by the refugee should be enough for its registration).
As easily as that, the hospitable Greek democracy condemns hundreds of people to live in fear and to be helpless in the hands of the cops that they will encounter. They even face torture and death with their obligatory return to their countries, from which they fought so hard to escape, since the controls and the expulsions from the country are still going on -despite the fact that the asylum procedures have stopped…