NO BORDER PATRAS
29, 30, 31 AUGUST 2008
Report: Three days of resistance and solidarity
In Patras, the (mainly) Afghan refugees reside in a settlement under constant police surveillance. The settlement is located in the eastern part of the city, three kilometres from the port. The population consists of over 1000 young men (and grows during the summer months). This overcrowded community has existed in Patras for the last 13 years. It was originally built by Iraqi Kurds outside the city on the same site, yet the city itself has grown towards the outskirts to include the settlement area, while the settlement itself has also grown enormously after the last «anti-terrorist» NATO «campaigns» in Iraq and Afghanistan. Initially, the Afghanis used the settlement mainly as a temporary stopover before travelling to Italy. Yet after the Dublin treaty, those who manage to reach an Italian port are returned to Patras by the Italian police. The refugees set up their lodging with bits of scrap, tin and plastic. There is practically no hygiene and they are deprived of the right to a water supply, electricity or even proper toilets. As if this were not enough, since January 2008 they have been closely guarded and blockaded, according to the authoritiesʼ decision that they should not move freely in the city and especially around the port area. Whoever tries to escape is beaten up, arrested, or even kidnapped and deported.
On the conditions for refugees in Greece in general and at the Patras settlement in particular, read: Fortress Europe May 2008 report .
During the last weekend of August, a three-day No Border camp took place in Patras, on a camping site formerly used by the Greek Tourist Organization, just over a mile from the refugee settlement.
FRIDAY 29 AUGUST
In the afternoon, at the beach-volleyball tournament, (the ice-breaking welcome activity of the No Border Camp in the hot sun), an Afghan refugee-team, a mixed Turkish/Bulgarian team, as well as a solidarity team of Greeks are joined by a team created on the spot by Albanian immigrants who happened to be on the beach…
In the evening, over 300 people, amongst them more than 100 Afghanis from the settlement, attend the public discussion on the camp grounds on “Europe Fortress and Resistance Movements”, presented in Greek, English and Afghani. A member of the No Border Assembly in Thessaloniki analyses the Return Directive that was voted in June, and the European Pact on Migration that is going to be passed in October 2008, explaining that “the anti-immigrant policies in Europe are part of a world war that is being waged against the poor.” A lawyer from the Information Office for Immigration and Asylum at the port of Ancona (primary destination of most ferries from Patras), who did not manage to join the camp because of an unexpected meeting on that very day with the prefecture on the future of the Office, has sent a text on the basic functions of legal aid, the politics of the Office and related statistics for the year 2007. The next speaker, a member of the No Border Assembly in Patras, offers an overview of the situation of refugees and immigrants in Greece, and especially in Patras, and then, after mentioning actions of solidarity that have so far taken place, goes on to underline the need to oppose the planned “hospitality centre” [according to Greek newspeak] in Patras, since it is just another prison, like the existing ones on the Aegean islands and at the border region of Evros. A member of the Group of Immigrants and Refugees has the floor. He begins by asking: “Why do immigrants and refugees exist? We all know the answer”, he continues: “Because there is war and exploitation…” An elderly man had asked him that morning why he wouldnʼt go back to his country. The immigrant had responded with a question: “Why are there Greek troops in Afghanistan?” He concluded: “The so-called immigrant question will not be solved unless we change the world.”
A member of the No Border Project, Ukraine, also one of the organizers of last yearʼs No Border camp in the Ukraine, talks about how Ukraine is being transformed into a detention zone for refugees and immigrants by the European Union. The EU is building detention centres, it trains and funds the border police. Asylum is granted to a near-zero percent of asylum seekers, and the Minister of the Interior himself, that is to say the higher police commander in the country, has openly and proudly declared he is a racist himself. For all that, the EU is rewarding the Ukraine with the 8th Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for Migration Affairs in Kiev on September 4-5, 2008. The next speaker is an Afghani refugee from the Patras settlement: “Over the last 25 years, all we have known in Afghanistan is war (…) We leave in order to live like humans and we find ourselves being treated worse than animals.” A member of the Anarchist Federation of Bulgaria, takes over, he greets the No Border camp, and describes how Bulgaria, too, is now building refugee detention centres with European funding. The discussion is briefly interrupted because of some technical problem with the projector – but this only turned into an opportunity for the truly transnational audience to watch theatre acts dramatizing the injustice of nationalism. Technical problems fixed, it is time for the last presentation by two members of No Border Turkey, due to take place in Dikili a few days after the Patras camp. They explain how, paradoxically, the Geneva Pact in Turkey is valid only for European nationals, and not for Africans and Asians. Turkey is actually using the implementation of the Geneva Pact as part of its own entry process into the EU. The presentation ends with graphic descriptions of crimes committed by Greek and Turkish port patrol officers and police (boat-sinking, torture etc), as well as of incidents of State violence against refugees and immigrants in prisons and on the Eastern borders.
It is almost midnight. Most Afghans head for the settlement accompanied by people from the camp for protection - the settlement is just over a mile away. Some refugees decide to stay on. DJ sets and dance continue into the night, for a while overpowering the frantic indifference thumping out of the loudspeakers of the local nightclub nearby.
SATURDAY 30 AUGUST
In the late morning, the camp assembles and discusses that eveningʼs demo as well as Sunday morningʼs plan for an act of solidarity at the port.
The whole assembly then moves on to the (mainly, but not exclusively Afghani) refugee settlement for an open meeting inviting them to the demo (about which they have already been informed by the local No Border Assembly and have prepared their own pickets: “War in Afghanistan. No asylum in Europe. Where whould we go?”). Some of us have been there before – we were expecting the filth, the humidity, the dire poverty in the overcrowded shantytown… European participants start taking pictures and asking questions about the 1000+ population that greets them with unusual politeness and dignity given the surroundings. They realise this is in fact the worst refugee settlement/detention space in the whole of Europe.
We, in turn, are shocked by the sight of several freshly-plastered wrists and legs…Breaking the limbs of refugees is the border policemenʼs latest controlling measure against refugees. As a substitute for arrest, it is quite effective: It keeps them from trying to board ships to Italy and it also keeps police departments clean. One refugee has been beaten up so hard, a broken rib has pierced his lung – the Medecins Sans Frontiers had to train a fellow refugee to give him daily injections for TB…
After the meeting, (where we also set up mixed self-protection teams for the demo and the concert), 2000 of us –the majority of the refugees and a great many people from throughout Greece, but also from Bulgaria, Rumania, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Ukraine, Austria, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, even Argentina and Venezuela, exit the settlement with flags, pickets and banners for what is going to be a great exhibition of solidarity and strength through the central streets of Patras. This is the third mass demonstration in Patras with the participation of refugees from the settlement. While it is the first to pass certain gentrified areas of the city, it is no surprise that its volume, as well as its radiant message ʽNo Border, No Nations, Stop Deportationsʼ, will be drastically downplayed in police reports to the local media on the same day.
It is around eight, the day is still bright. The demo ends at a square in central Patras, where a stage has been set up for an open air No Border concert. No sound check for most bands, since most people just cannot wait to start dancing. “Bella Ciao” and “Solidarity” covers by the Bulgarian street punk band, and a rich set of political hip-hop by an Albanian immigrant duet are followed by a dancing and singing act –a kind of Oriental break-trance- by an Iranian and an Afghani refugee from the settlement. A very happy yet focussed crowd responds with waves of enthusiasm. A rock band from Thessaloniki shares the stage with the Albanians to cover the Zoundsʼ “War [in Afghanistan]”, a much-loved Greek songwriter with his band offers jazz bass solos, his own and traditional tunes and a Clash cover, and rock bands from Thessaloniki and Athens pay their own tribute to a majestic evening. Between each act, refugees, immigrants and people from solidarity groups give short speeches, inform the audience about the No Border camp and announce the Sunday action. Refugees turn from breakdance to pogo and back, while a restless couple of hundred sing along to Greek underground classics: “This is not democracy, this is not freedom, this is the rule of the bastards,” and “We were all born cops in this town”.
The feeling of joy and solidarity is so intense, there is no need for excessive alcohol consumption. By 3:15am the square is clean and quiet.
SUNDAY 31 AUGUST
Around noon, some 200 people from the No Border camp and the solidarity movement, again with wide European participation (but no sans papiers immigrants for security reasons) set out to attempt to enter the port area. Riot and port police presence comes as no surprise, four units are guarding the inner gates to the bay. As we later understand, the police believe the demo is planning to enter the port in order to occupy a ship. As soon as the demo approaches the port police line, a body-contact confrontation starts between the riot police and demonstrators who use their flags as batons. The clash lasts several minutes. The riot police uses teargas. A can explodes on a demonstratorʼs body, just over his kidney. Demonstrators keep together and again, they align themselves in front of the police line. “We are not leaving unless you let us pass”. “We will stay here for as long as it takes”. Eventually, the head of the port authorities orders the riot police to let the demostrators in. The banners, demanding “Asylum and Freedom of Movement for All” and the shutting down of detention centres, are hung at the twin entrances to the shipʼs front vault doors and for a while they look like they are enveloping one riot police unit each: The cops still think the demo aims for an occupation of the ship and have hurried to block all access on board.
When the demo leaves the port area, it is joined by a couple of dozen cheering and singing North African immigrants who have watched everything through the gates. Once again, the migrants show us their trust, a priceless gift and our sharpest weapon. As more and more join the demo after the events at the port, around 300 people return to an occupied University building at the centre of town.
In the early evening, at the final No Border meeting at the campsite, there is room only for a short discussion and not for a much-needed longer assessment and exchange, as many participants from abroad remark. Most people are leaving soon. It has indeed been a short session compared to No Border camps abroad, where there is plenty of time for decentralized workshops, readings, and several discussions. The Patras Assembly suggests future actions against the planned “final solution” for the settlement and the building of a detention centre in Patras, people from Thessaloniki and Patras call for the coordination of multiple local actions throughout Europe against the new European pact on Immigration that is to be voted in Bruxelles in mid-October, German comrades inform us of a massive march that is being planned in Paris for the same reason, Bulgarians propose an antinationalist Balkan meeting with Macedonians, Bulgarians and Greeks, a person from the Ukrainian No Border Project proposes a European network that could help the solidarity groups for immigrants and refugees in their legal rights struggles.
On the whole, these three days against Fortress Europe at the No Border camp in Patras offered the refugees moments of freedom, and created a meaningful and inspiring precedent for everyone who joined. People from all over Europe got a first hand impression of conditions at the settlement, the solidarity movement proved it can have a dynamic, serious and effective approach to the struggle on the side of immigrants and refugees, many contacts were made and relations of solidarity seem to have been established.
We hope there will be more.
More photos and videos:
A note on the immediate aftermath of the No Border camp
In the week after the No Border camp, there was a number of arrests and violent beatings of refugees by the police and the port officers: on Tuesday (Sept. 2) an underage Afghan refugee (who had taken active part at the No Border activities) was arrested and imprisoned. He was released two days later, when a lawyer was called by people from a solidarity group. In the meanwhile, the police tried to connect two activists who had taken part at the No Border camp to a burglary, falsifying the victimʼs statement, on the basis that they were spotted near the scene of the burglary. One day later, in court, when the victim found out that her statement had been falsified, she was furious and the D.A. had to release the two activists. The Monday after that (Sept. 8) three Afghan refugees who tried to board a truck that would be going to Italy were chased and beaten by the port police, (adding to the 36 cases of beatings of refugees by the police in Patras in August 2008 according to the official records of the Medecins Sans Frontieres). One of the refugees was taken to hospital with a serious wound in the head (caused by a sharp and heavy object), where he was interrogated by the police for two whole hours without the presence of a lawyer.
On Monday evening things came to a head. Over a hundred refugees from the settlement who had seen their wounded friend at the hospital, alongside some people from the solidarity movement, marched to the port area demanding the liberation of 47 immigrants, amongst them 16 minors, who are being held captive in containers that look grimmer than animal cages and serve as the official “hospitality” centre at the port. The port officers referred the refugeesʼ demand to the local D.A. who immediately responded in the negative. The refugees couldnʼt hold their anger and started throwing stones at the port policemen, giving them a real scare. The conflict lasted over a quarter of an hour. Since Monday, the local media has been flooded with hysterical appeals for more policing in the town (how much more?...we wonder), outright lies about what happened, even pseudo-researched articles on the heroin trade in Afghanistan…
Monday 8 September: videos and pictures from patras.indymedia
In the meanwhile, the future of the settlement in Patras as well as the building of a new detention centre was discussed on Thursday the 11th of September at the ministry of the interior in Athens. About a fifty people gathered outside the ministry in protest. No official announcement has been issued yet.
Friday 12 September: photos from the open meeting with PA system to publicize the events at the entrance of the Thessaloniki International Fair, (a major annual event for companies and politicians).