Some 300 migrant workers, mostly from north Africa, have gone 41 days without food to protest the Greek government’s denying them legal status. According to the Guardian, about a third of them have been taken to the hospital after having nothing but water, sugar and salt for over five weeks. The socialist administration of George Papandreou has been put ‘increasingly on the defensive’ as the hunger strikers vowed to continue their protest.
In his cotton headdress and chequered slippers, [Elktif] Belaid [from Morocco] is, at 45, older than most of his comrades in hunger, and more eloquent. But in attitude and resolve he is no different. “Europeans hate immigrants even though we helped build their economies,” said the bearded father of three. “But Europe has to help because Europe in the past was the colonial power, it supported those dictators. Today it is reaping what it sowed.”
The emigres arrived in Athens from Crete. At first, with the help of local sympathisers, they occupied the law school at Athens University before being removed by riot police. A private citizen offered to house them in the mansion when they had nowhere else to go. Like Belaid, many had made long treks to Greece, sneaking into the country from Turkey before finding jobs on Crete in construction or on farms.”
I arrived here in 2003,” said Abdullahtif Chadid, another Moroccan, his face cupped in his hands. “I am 31, but in all that time I have never returned to my homeland. I want very much to see my mother and father and I have paid my dues, insurance, stamp duties and lawyer’s fees. Yet the authorities have refused us permits.
“Without proper papers I know I’ll never be able to enter Greece legally again.”
According to the Greek website Enet.gr, several migrant workers in the northern city of Thessaloniki are also on a hunger strike. Some are suffering from renal failure, as well as dehydration and muscle spasms.
Greeece’s citizen protection minister, Christos Papoutsis, has said that the country will not give legal status to the hunger strikers; ‘Greece is in the midst of economic and social crisis and cannot accept any more migrants,’ he says in the Guardian. Greece’s national debt is currently €300 billion ($413.6 billion) and is larger than its economy. Its deficit is 12.7 percent and its credit rating has been downgraded to the lowest in the Eurozone.
On Sunday the goverment offered a year’s residency if they ended the strike.
90% of the approximately 128,000 people who entered the European Union illegally last year did so through Greece, many through the land border that the country shares with Turkey. Immigrants from Asia, Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan entered Greece in record numbers last year but the debt-ridden nation—is ill-equipped to process, let alone assist, them.
The Greek government has increased patrols along its 9300-mile coastline and last week Frontex, the EU border control agency, said that it would extend its six-month operation guarding the Greek-Turkish border. Greece wants to build a wall across its border with Turkey; the February 1st New York Times reports that this announcement caused ‘outrage from some immigrant rights groups that feared that legitimate asylum seekers, particularly from Iran and Afghanistan, would not be able to get through.’ And, says the Guardian, ‘Athens has also aired the idea of creating floating detention centres.’
Belaid and the other protesters have amazed doctors by their endurance. Said Belaid:
“Take note,” said Belaid. “We are desperate people and we won’t give in. Migrants have rights, too, and we will fight for them.”
The deaths of three Bangladeshi men who, as reported in the New York Times, drowned off the island of Crete after jumping from a Greek ferry that was evacuating undocumented migrant works from Libya—has highlighted Greece’s fears about the ‘impending chaos,’ should waves of refugees from North Africa enter Greece.
Photo of migrants picking strawberries in Ilia, in southeastern Greece, by noborder network.