Greece: 300 immigrants on indefinite hunger strike

Economic crisis sees Pasok government and media scapegoat immigrants

Three hundred ‘undocumented’ immigrant workers began a hunger strike, on 25 January, demanding papers 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 and occupied local Labor Centres.

The 300 immigrant workers decided to organize the hunger strike after they held a series of ‘democratic assemblies’. When they reached the decision to go on hunger strike, they asked the Greek Left and anti-racist organizations to stand by their side and organize the solidarity campaign. Xekinima (CWI in Greece) and its immigrant members’ branch were involved from the very beginning in the campaign’s Solidarity Committee.

Most of the ‘300’, as they are generally know, originally come from Mahgreb countries, and are fully integrated in Greek society, where they have lived and worked here for several years, although without any rights, at all. A large number previously had residence and work permits, which they lost due to the economic crisis that forced them out of the labor market. As legal immigrants they immediately loose their legal status if they do not complete 200 hundred days of social insurance payment in the course of one year.

This is largest hunger strike ever in Greece. During the last two years, there were a series of hunger strikes organized by smaller groups of asylum seekers (Iranians, Afghanis, Palestinians, Kurdish) but this one is on an entirely different scale.

“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 up to half a million. Around 400,000 people lost their legal status during the last 2 years. The asylum recognition rate is shameful at 0.3%, when the European average is 20-25%. There is no real refugee center anywhere in Greece, just detention places where police hold asylum seekers under inhuman conditions.

All those desperate immigrants that tried to escape from Greece to another European country were deported back following the EU’s ‘Dublin II Agreement’. In some areas of Athens, parks and squares became 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 were concerned that the hunger strike could act as a symbol of struggle, particularly as they also have 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 highways 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.

A huge mass media campaign began against the 300’s hunger strike, orchestrated by government ministers and the pro-establishment political parties. “Invaders!” they screamed [of the university Law Department building], “Vandals” …”Troublemakers that forced students out of their school”, “Agents of …dark forces”, – these are just a few of the statements made about the 300. The Minister of the Interior, G. Ragousis, said that “the ‘300’ and their supporters expose the country to danger.”

But the 300 did not “invade” the Law Department building – instead they were hosted in an empty building belonging to the University after the majority of the students union gave them permission to do so. Student’s lessons and the exams were not disturbed. The building where the 300 settled was never more cleaner and well looked after, as the Rector of the University had to admit in a special press conference.

The government’s most fervent advocates in this huge anti-immigrant campaign are the ultra-right LAOS party and the fascist Golden Dawn party.

Criminalisation of the movement

Early in the morning of 27 January, the Papandreou’s Pasok 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, which violatas academic asylum. By 5pm that day, police forces surrounded the Law School, blocked the doors of the building a time when more than 500 people were inside. The police also stopped traffic on all the roads around the Law School, and created a special zone of hundreds of meters which no-one could enter or leave.

In response, the 300 and the Solidarity Committee organized 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 make up the front lines at the doors and to be first arrested first.

During negotiations that lasted 11 hours, it was announced that an individual had offered a private building to host the 300 and their supporters. During the long negotiations, thousands of people came onto the streets of many Geek cities and towns (including after midnight) in spontaneous demonstrations of solidarity with the immigrant 300 struggle.

The police allowed people to come out of the Athens University Law School at 4am. Immigrants and their supporters demonstrated as they went to the new venue, carrying clothes, sleeping bags, matresses, banners and leaflets.

Two days later, five prominent Greeks from the Solidarity Committee were charged by the District Attorney as suspects for “illegal transportation of people”. This ‘crime’ of assisting “illegal” (undocumented) immigrants is punished by law and can carry serious court sentences.

At the same time, the Minister of the Interior denied any possibility of legalisation and repealed a decree under which 15 immigrants hunger strikers were legalized in 2009. In addition, 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 hunger strike goes on

The immigrants continue the hunger strike under very difficult conditions. Half of them have to stay inside tents in the backyard of their new venue, 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 organized so far, to support their cause.

The Greek section of the CWI (Xekinima) puts forward a programme calling for the class unity of the working class, no matter what their nationality or religion; for immigrant workers who lost their legal status, we demand they are allowed to regain it; 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 that want to leave Greece. No more money for repression measures, such as the planned ‘fence’ the Pasok government plans to build on the its borders with Turkey.

As well as this, the unions should enthusiastically campaign for union rights amongst all sections of the workforce, particularly the most exploited and vulnerable – the immigrants.

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 organizations and left political groups to send protests to the government and solidarity message to the hunger strikers.

Please sent messages of protest to:

Giannis Raggousis – Minister of Interior:

ypourgos@ypes.gov.gr

The Prime Minister, George Papanedreou:

dialogue@politicalforum.gr

Please send copies of above and messages of support to:

The 300 hunger strikers:

hungerstrike300@gmail.com

The Greek section of the CWI, Xekinima:

Xekinima@hotmail.com

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