Scores of Migrant Workers in Greece Enter 6th Week of Hunger Strike

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, 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.


Stella Routis
Stella Routis6 years ago

Celia the animal cruelty that you mentioned here is irrelevant to the subject unless you want to highlight the negative side of Greeks. Let me tell you this My sister welcomed more than half a dozen stray dogs so yes there are animal lovers in Greece also. When i lived in New Orleans La in the States i was driving behind a car and the people inside were throwing kittens out the car window, China is another place with horrific animal abuse. See my friend animal cruelty exists in any part of the world, bringing up this subject which again is irrelevant to what we are talking about here it seems like you are trying to paint a bad picture for Greek people.
Now coming back to our immigration subject the one we are writing about i will say this. It is the immigrant’s responsibility to get informed about the country they want to immigrate to. Yes in this situation it is much better to stay home at least they are going to be with their families and people that care and love them.

celia marker
celia marker6 years ago

As a UK resident involved in animal charity work in Greece, I know quite a bit about the state of Greece - and much of it is to do with the fact that many or most of the Greeks flout the law, take bribes, don't pay taxes - and that's why they can't pay their way.

The immigrants suffer as much as the animals I think - there is enormous animal cruelty in Greece - dogs are hanged, shot and poisoned; dogs,pups,cats and kittens dumped in bins, on roads and left to die or starve. They have never received anyh help in the better times - there's little hope for anyone now. One dog rescue centre had run out of dog food and money - we have just despatched a large quantity of food to keep them going.

We have a big illegal immigrant problem here in the UK - and times are tough - but it's pretty awful to just say 'let them stay at home" - when there is nothing there either.

Stella Routis
Stella Routis6 years ago

And by the way Barbara, Greece did not make it desirable for any immigrant to come to Greece. They sneak in Greece by ferries as Helen said, its not any different with the situation in US, am i right? I beleive the immigrant situation in the States is ten times worse than it is in Greece. I have read the horrific stories of immigrants of how they are treated in the States by some illegal employers. They do not even provide them with toiles or enough water in some areas of Texas or Arizona where the land is almost like a desert. On top of that they pay them pennies if they ever get paid. I lived in your country and i know what i am talking about. My question is why those kind of situations of illegal immigrants do not get known in wider scale so anyone around the world know what is going on in the States and how the illegal immigrants are treated there? Answers are welcome.

Stella Routis
Stella Routis6 years ago

Mr. Belaid from Morocco said this
“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.”

Its not true that Greece had any colonies in Africa unless he is talking about the era of Great Alexander. France, Belgium, Enland and Spain, if i am not mistaken, were the European countries that once had colonies in Africa. So Mr.Belaid has to move on to these countries and it is best for him to leave Greece since there are thousands of Greeks that they might not be in hunger strike but they are hungry in their own country. Greece can hardly feed their own people never mind taking care of immigrants that were not wanted there the first place.

Barbara P.
Barbara p6 years ago

Helen, when a nation makes it desirable for illegals to cross borders and provides for their being able to take jobs from its citizens you can be sure that the nation's governments (at all levels) have given in to the unions and left to the point of destroying the nation. That's the ultimate goal. For Greece to survive it must dislodge the unions, their contracts, benefits etc and peg compensation to the private sector, anything less will not succeed. And they must close their borders, punish those employers who hire illegals and make life difficult for illegals deporting them as soon as they are caught. We need the same solutions here in America.

Star S.6 years ago

the plight of the illegal migrants is very sad. But these migrants are ferried across at night skipping the sea patrols and landing by the thousands. Greece is a very small country and already the foreigners (most of them illegal) are accounting for a large percentage of the population. Greece cannot cope with this and is getting very little assistance from anyone to cope with this situation. Unemployment in Greece will soon reach the Spanish levels 21%- who will feed and accomodate these people. The Greek citizens salaries and pensions are being cut back to the point that they can barely pay for their rent or food. The problem of refugees is a global one and the responsibility of all the world.. . It is definitely a huge problem but needs co-operation on the part of all the countries.

Maira Sun
Maira Sun6 years ago


Justina G.
Justina Gil6 years ago

So sad

Carole F.
Carole f6 years ago

Stella R.
I grieve with you for what used to be. my grandparents came from Greece, loved their homeland, visited their relatives often, but came to America, and, with a GREAT deal of pride...became citizens! Contributed to our economy, learned the language, paid to educate their children, always instilled pride of their American citizen to their children and grandchildren, but never forgot their roots. Didn't many immigrants come to America and do the same? I am truly proud to be Greek, proud of my grandparents and what they did in and for this country, but wish my family could return to the homeland of their ancestors and not be afraid to walk the streets. My mom doesn't return anymore, due to fear. How sad this situation is for the people of Greece.

Dean P.
Dean P6 years ago

Stay in your homeland and you shant have this problem..maybe!