Refugees can achieve so much if they’re not caged in isolated camps
City Plaza has proved that it is possible to provide a life with dignity with few resources to more than 300 people, something that the European governments seem unable to do. It is the example of what governments should do but don’t, and it is a reference point for the protests against the unfair EU policies. Despite the unwilling of our states to resolve this critical situation, City Plaza shows that unity and solidarity among people can be the answer.
Rooms were lying empty at the City Plaza hotel in Athens. Now it’s an autonomous hive where refugees are empowered
In May 2016, after the EU-Turkey agreement designed to close off mass immigration to Europe, a group of 120 migrants accompanied by volunteers stormed the well-known City Plaza hotel in Athens. The hotel was vacant, its owners having gone bankrupt. Hundreds of rooms were lying empty while refugees suffered in camps far from the city.
The refugees set up shop there, and – despite government threats to cut off the water and electricity – have remained ever since. The hotel is a cacophony of noise. The sounds of small children shrieking waft through the reception area. Staccato bursts of Arabic, Urdu, Persian and English fill the room. The walls are adorned with posters. A blue sign with “City Plaza” written downwards on either sign flanks a message: Solidarity, together, resistance, unity, giving, getting, life, equality. The words written underneath each other their first letters highlighted in pink spell out “struggle”.
Next door is the bar. Tables are covered with backgammon sets as refugees play among tendrils of smoke that rise from shisha and cigarettes. A banner hung on the wall reads: “We rise against the criminal system of fortress Europe.”
The hotel, he continues, is more than just a home: it is, firstly, a political message. “It is counter-example to the camps,” he says. “It shows an alternative to how refugees should be housed. Not in the middle of nowhere, but in the city, with access to social services. One third of the population here are children and they are able to access schools. People should live in houses and buildings, not in camps and containers far from cities.
“So we occupied the hotel partly as a demand to the government to house refugees properly – especially as there are so many empty houses around Athens. We also wanted to create a space to fight against EU policies of detention, deportation and general mistreatment of migrants, and to fight against the labelling of them.”
Critically, he feels the hotel is a standing rebuttal to what he perceives is a deliberate government policy of mistreating refugees: “In the camps there is no access to edible food, no access to water, no showers and no privacy,” he says. “We provide all this to show that what they [the government] do is not out of compulsion, but out of choice – to punish refugees to set an example so that more won’t come.”
Dinner that evening is hamburgers with French fries and a spicy sauce. All the meat is halal. The hotel is filled with life. Three solidiarians walk up the stairs carrying crates filled with children’s clothes. A Middle Eastern man in a Manchester United top blows smoke rings contentedly into the ether. But amid the bustle it is clear that everything works like clockwork. Committees decide everything from the catering to who gets housed.
Alcohol and drugs are banned. The threat from the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, notorious for attacking refugees, has also been factored in. The hotel has significant security. So far, no one from Golden Dawn has dared come.
City Plaza is an oasis for refugees amid the chaos and misery in which so many find themselves in Greece. It offers an alternative model to the treatment of refugees. All across Europe, oceans of housing lie empty. City Plaza shows how Europe can help refugees to help themselves. We must take heed – and do so fast. Until we do, too many will suffer unnecessarily – and, in their eyes, unforgivably.
• David Patrikarakos is an author, academic and journalist
To read the original click on: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/19/refugees-achieve-city-plaza-hotel-athens-greece