22 April 2016 – 22 October 2017: One and a half years of City Plaza
Today City Plaza is one and half years old.
On April 22, 2016, 250 activists and refugees took over the hotel City Plaza in the center of Athens. A hotel which like many other businesses stood closed for 6 years after the economic collapse and the government’s policies of austerity. This abandoned hotel was transformed into a Refugee Accommodation and Solidarity Space. Since then the solidarity initiative has, for more than 500 days, provided free and decent housing to over 1700 people in the center of Athens, irrespective of their nationality and residence status. These people are housed in the hotel’s 120 rooms, 350-400 persons at a time, a third of whom are children.
There are other ways you can measure what’s been happening here over the past 18 months; with the 385,000 warm meals served by the kitchen group or with the 35,000 working hours spent at security posts by the hotel’s entrance and on the balconies of the building. With the 13,560 hours of shifts at the reception desk or with the more than 32,700 rolls of toilet paper distributed by the warehouse team. It can also be counted in 156 full van-loads of fresh vegetables and meat; or in the countless hours spent cleaning the building, or in the medical center, in the hours spent teaching in the two classrooms, or in the women space and in the playground or with the 18 tons of heating oil used in the boilers and radiators.
But most of what’s happened during this one and half year cannot be measured.
There’s no way to measure the positive impact being able to live in a safe space, with privacy in a community of open participation and common decision making has had on the lives of people who have been traumatized, lived homeless or spent months trapped in Idomeni and other border regions. There’s no way to measure the sense of connection created by the diaspora community of City Plaza’s ex-residents, now living in many different European cities, who keep in contact each other and with Athens, many of whom demonstrated in the ‘We’ll Come United” parade in Berlin. There’s no way to measure the benefits which result from children communicating in the new languages they’ve learnt in the short period of time they’ve spent here. And there’s so much more…
All of this might seem like a miracle when you consider that City Plaza’s funding depends exclusively on donations from individuals and solidarity groups and is run on an entirely voluntary basis. But…
It’s not a miracle. It is the reality of what is possible through solidarity and self-organization.
It is the living reality created by the hundreds of locals, refugees and “internationals” who come from countries across Europe and the world, who’ve made City Plaza their home and created this unique experiment in communal living. It is a reality made possible by an unprecedented show of solidarity from the ex-workers of City Plaza, who, even though they were fighting for the auction of the hotel’s infrastructure so that they could finally receive their unpaid salaries, offered it to be used by the refugees for as long as is needed. And it is also the reality created by the thousands of supporters across the globe, some of whom are known intellectuals and artists, but the vast majority of them unnamed people who’s contributions has ensured the project’s survival and created a political shield against the threats of eviction faced by City Plaza.
Meeting the needs; stressing demands; reclaiming social and political rights.
City Plaza emerged as a direct response of the solidarity movement to the disastrous effects of the EU-Turkey Deal and the militarized closure of the Balkan Route. City Plaza was squatted in order to provide displaced people a safe and dignified alternative to the miserable, unhygienic, cruel conditions of the refugee camps, the hot-spots and the detention facilities. In doing this, City Plaza stresses a clear political message: decent living conditions for everyone is possible, even in a country as burdened by crisis as Greece.
If crisis means the devaluation of capital, then the no longer profitable infrastructure has to be reclaimed from society in order to act against the devaluation of human life. And if EU migration and border policies are based on the selective exclusion and repression of migrants, then it is up to us, the society below, to establish and guarantee the social and political rights that others are deprived of.
The re-stabilized migration regime brings new form of exclusions.
After the EU-Turkey deal and the closure of the Balkan Route, numbers of border crossings decreased radically and a buffer zone was established in East Aegean. European and UN funding flowed into the institutions dealing with migration policies, and so-called experts of the EU came to organize a regime of exception from the right to asylum for the newcomers based on the “safe third country” clause for Turkey. The cooperation of the Erdogan regime in Turkey, the re-implementation of the illegal push-back practices by the Greek coast guard at the borders, as well as the horrible living conditions at hot-spots, now synonymous with suffering, repression and deaths from the cold. These are the methods implemented towards achieving the EU’s policies for controlling migration.
Their policies of integration are restricted to mainland Greece, but even there the results are poor when you consider the amount of resources and the numbers of staff employed by NGO’s and the state. Even if the most inhumane refugee camps of 2016 have now been closed, the tents replaced by containers, the camps are still on the outskirts of the cities, perpetuating the refugee’s spatial and social exclusion. Their access to education, psychological support, basic public services and social networks is also inadequate. At the same time housing programs, as well as relocation and family unification procedures are painfully slow and highly selective, excluding specific nationalities and creating illegalized migrants.
Defending the counter-example
City Plaza is an entirely voluntary effort without any paid staff or public funding but it takes significant resources to run. Even though City Plaza’s expenses when compared to those of the official camps, are over 1/5 less, fresh food and heating oil take up a large portion of City Plaza’s budget. There are many other expenses — medicines, laundry and school materials, cleaning and hygiene products etc. Support is also important because the very real threat of eviction hangs over City Plaza. An eviction order was published by the state prosecutor in April 2017, ordering the police to carry it out but it first has to overcome the broad solidarity movement of City Plaza, and so far, the Greek government has appeared to tolerate Plaza and the other refugee’ housing squats. Nevertheless, this is more a political issue than an operational one and concerns a balance of power.
Keep City Plaza Open!
City Plaza celebrates it’s one and a half year anniversary today facing major financial problems with only just enough resources to last until the end of the year. The international fund-raising campaign, as well as the direct donations which were so successful in the first year of the project, have declined severely. Therefore, we appeal once more to all the individuals and groups who through their contributions have made City Plaza possible. We ask for local groups and initiatives to organize solidarity events, parties, to spread the message. Collective or private individuals outside Greece can use the Best Hotel in Europe platform (from Germany), or they are very welcome to donate directly by coming to City Plaza. Besides the campaign, information tours of City Plaza are also planned for the next months and an effort to spread information on City Plaza will start with the publication of a regular newsletter.