Introduction to Athens
With OHF opening in Athens, we would like to give you a short overview of the Greek city: With more than 4000 years of history, Athens is Europe’s oldest capital and the birthplace of democracy. The city is home to around 660’00 people with more than 3 million in the greater urban area. The city has 11 major neighbourhoods, out of which Plaka with its historic government buildings next to the Acropolis is the most famous amongst tourists, and Exarchia is mostly known amongst political activists, artists and all kinds of rebels.
Context of the City
The major camp in Athens is Eleonas Camp, located 15 minutes away from the city centre in the industrial area. It has an original capacity of 700 people, but always hosted twice that amount. Now it is even hosting more than 3000 according to some news reports. According to further reports, about 25% of Athens population are immigrants, including recently or long ago arrived legal and illegal migrants. This number is so high due to the fact that many people who were granted asylum in Lesvos left for Athens in search of better opportunities. Also, many asylum seekers from across Europe keep getting sent back to Athens as Greece was their first entry point into the Union and therefore they should, according to Schengen, apply for asylum there.
Lack of Support System
Currently, the law is that one month after asylum is granted, provision of shelter, food and financial support stops. Whoever wants to stay in Greece must be able to work and sustain him/herself. With a 13% unemployment rate in Greece, this is no easy task for any accepted asylum seeker as there are almost no jobs. As reported previously, hunger remains an issue as a result, both in and outside camps. There are no clear numbers on homelessness, but unfortunately, many migrants and refugees are homeless, trying to live in Victoria Square, where the police drive them away regularly. This became especially problematic after the fire in Moria in September 2020 when many people were transferred to the mainland.
With a lack of alternatives, many refugees have been living in squatted houses in Athens – e.g. in 2017 there were six official refugee squats with around 2000 inhabitants in the city.
Arrivals and Departures in Lesvos
In February 2022, there was once more a high number of reported push backs: 51 boats in the Mediterranean with an estimated 2586 people being illegally brought back to the coasts of Libya and Turkey. In contrast, only 174 persons arrived on the Aegean islands, out of which 75 arrived on Lesvos. The current population of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants remains at around 3100 on all the Aegean Islands. Around 3900 asylum seekers are registered in the area of Mainland Greece, from a total of 30’000 registered persons in all of Greece (more numbers here).
Horrific images on the beach in the north of Mytilene
On Tuesday morning, 1 March, six dead bodies, three men and three women, according to information all of African descent, were found on the coast of Epano Skala in Mytilene. Meanwhile, one more male victim has been found. The bodies were not wearing life jackets and it is assumed that they died in a shipwreck. The recovered bodies were taken to Mytilene hospital for an autopsy. The search continued for survivors and the boat they may have been travelling in.
As of 8.30 a.m. on Tuesday, a Coast Guard helicopter was searching for drowned or survivors, and a Greek Coast Guard team and vessels, as well as a police patrol boat, were in the area. So far there is no further information. However, there is much speculation as to whether the people drowned during the crossing from Turkey, or whether the accident occurred after a pushback from the Greek side, which would make the coastguard responsible for the accident.