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Economic crisis in Greece: Immigrants made scapegoats
Three hundred 'undocumented' immigrant workers began a hunger strike on 25 January, demanding documents and equal rights. The majority of them (240 people) travelled from Greek cities to Athens and occupied a section of the law department at Athens University, in which refurbishment works were taking place. The others travelled to Thessalonica.
Christina Ziaka, Xekinima, (CWI Greece)
When the 300 immigrant workers decided to organise the hunger strike, they asked the Greek Left and anti-racist groups to build the solidarity campaign.
Xekinima and its immigrant members' branch were involved from the very beginning.
Most of the '300' come from Maghreb countries in north Africa, and are fully integrated in Greek society, where they have lived and worked for years.
A large number previously had residence and work permits, which they lost along with their jobs. They immediately lose their legal status if they do not complete 200 days of social insurance payment in one year.
'No man's land'
Greece has become more and more a 'no man's land' for the majority of immigrants and asylum seekers. The number of undocumented people has grown to half a million.
Desperate immigrants who tried to escape from Greece to other European countries were deported back here following the EU's 'Dublin II Agreement'. In some areas of Athens, parks and squares have become the only shelter for jobless, undocumented, homeless and starving people to gather.
These are the atrocious conditions that gave rise to the hunger strike - a desperate struggle by people who feel they are left with no other options.
The Greek government is concerned that the hunger strike could act as a symbol of struggle, particularly as it also has to deal with strikes by public transport workers, doctors and pharmacists and with more workers likely to follow.
The government faces an additional challenge: the growing "refuse to pay" movement that aims to block and reverse the recently announced increased prices for highway tolls, public transport and public hospitals.
Greek prime minister, George Papandreou, like other politicians before him, decided to shift the public 'discussion' and to scapegoat and demonise the '300' movement.
Early in the morning of 27 January, the government gave a deadline to the 300 and their supporters to leave the university law department or police would force them out in 24 hours.
By 5pm that day police surrounded the law school and blocked the doors when more than 500 people were inside.
The 300 and the solidarity committee organised an emergency assembly. They decided to evacuate the building only if there was an alternative place offered to host the hunger strike or else the police would have to try to force them out.
Greeks volunteered to form the front lines at the doors and to be arrested first.
During negotiations that lasted eleven hours, it was announced that an individual had offered the 300 a building. During the long negotiations, thousands of people came onto the streets of many Greek cities and towns in spontaneous demonstrations of solidarity.
The police allowed people to come out of the law school at 4am. Two days later, five prominent Greeks from the solidarity committee were charged with "illegal transportation of people".
At the same time the minister of the interior denied any possibility of legalisation and repealed a decree under which 15 immigrant hunger strikers were legalised in 2009.
The minister called on all immigrants' communities in Greece to 'comply' with the law, "to prevent their members from participating in events that would act as hot spots".
The immigrants continue the hunger strike under very difficult conditions. Half of them have to stay inside tents, often under heavy rain.
But they are in high spirits, which is linked to the news of the Tunisian and the Egyptian uprisings.
A new demonstration, a concert and an international day of solidarity on 11 February have been organised so far, to support their cause.
Xekinima puts forward a programme calling for the unity of the working class, no matter what their nationality or religion. For immigrant workers who have lost their legal status, we demand they are allowed to regain it.
We call for a drastic increase in the asylum recognition rate, for the withdrawal of the Dublin II Agreement and the granting of travel documents to all those who want to leave Greece.
No more money for repressive measures, such as the fence the Pasok government plans to build on the borders with Turkey.
As well as this, the unions should enthusiastically campaign for union rights amongst all sections of the workforce.
The big banks and big business should be made to pay for the economic crisis, not Greek and immigrant workers!
We appeal to unions and workers'/community/student and youth organisations to send protests to the government and solidarity messages to the hunger strikers.
Please send messages of protest to:
- Giannis Raggousis - Minister of Interior: firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Prime Minister, George Papanedreou: email@example.com
In The Socialist 9 February 2011:
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party youth and students
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party Marxist analysis