Unsafe Greek Olympic hall re-opens for refugees

Greek authority houses refugees sleeping on streets of Athens in derelict indoor hall as local residents stage protest to shelter them

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Young migrant children look for their toys as hundreds of migrants evacuate their camp of Victoria square in central Athens, before being transferred to a former Olympic hall, on October 1, 2015

The Greek government urgently re-opened an unsafe sports hall on Thursday to house hundreds of refugees who have no shelter and have been sleeping on the streets of Athens.

A bus took more than 400 refugees from Central Victoria Square to the Galatsi indoor hall, somewhat of an unsafe sports hall that hasn't been used since the 2004 Olympics in Athens to shelter refugees, mainly from Afghanistan.  

"I ask residents to be patient... Victoria Square will be cleared," Yiannis Mouzalas, the junior interior minister in charge of migration, told reporters on the scene.

"We are trying to reduce pressure on the local population so that it will maintain the stance of solidarity it has shown until now," he said.

"We do not want them to become susceptible to far-right, racist and xenophobic views."

Hundreds of Afghan refugees set up tents in Victoria Square in recent days, a condition which broke into protest, started in the city of Athens.

Shops were closed on Thursday around the square, and local residents staged a demonstration requesting the camp to be destroyed.

"We are not racist but, [a migrant camp] is not what the square is for," a man told Skai TV.

Demonstrators of an anti-racist group also began a counter-protest to demand shelter for the refugees sleeping in tents around Victoria Square.

"We cannot work miracles but the situation will improve," Mouzalas promised.

Greece is the first port of call for hundreds of thousands of refugees, mainly Syrian, who are seeking to travel west, triggering Europe's worst migrant crisis since World War Two.

Mayor George Kaminis made a call to the Greek authority to permit the abandoned army camps around the country.

"There are abandoned army camps in greater Athens and all over Greece," he told Skai this week.

"It's inexcusable to have empty camps and squares full [of migrants]," he said.

Over 350,000 refugees crossed the Mediterranean this year, in an attempt to enter Europe, as they flee conditions of war and poverty.

The IOM says that more than 2,600 refugees have died while trying to cross the sea by using primitive boats. The agency reported that 234,778 people have made it to Greece, 114,276 made it to Italy, 2,166 debarked in Spain and 94 arrived in Malta by September 1.

The enormous number of refugees that have crossed the Mediterranean Sea, far exceeds last year's number, which was 219,000 in total for the year of 2014.

EU member states agreed last month to accept 32,000 refugees arriving in Italy and Greece over the next two years, while the target was originally 40,000.

A number of refugees also follow a route through Turkey or Greece to reach the Balkans. From there, they cross over to the EU countries.


TRTWorld and agencies