Greece has been a primary European entry point for refugees and migrants, with hundreds of thousands passing through the country, settling or becoming stuck there since 2015.
Since a new right-wing government took power in Greece earlier this summer, tensions have soared as authorities target and evict squats filled with refugees, migrants and activists in Athens and elsewhere.
Earlier this week, Greek authorities bulked up the presence of police as clashes increased over a spate of evictions taking aim at squatted buildings in central Athens, local media reported.
Over the weekend, anarchists and other activists hurled petrol bombs at police officers in the Exarchia district, a central Athens neighbourhood known as a safe haven for refugees and migrants, the Kathimerini daily newspaper reports.
While some of the evictions targeted squats where anarchists and other activists resided, many targeted squatted buildings providing residence to hundreds of asylum seekers.
The evictions have sparked concern among pro-refugee activists, who worry that the refugees and migrants will end up living in the already overcrowded camps and hot spots or on the streets.
Arash Hampay, an Iranian refugee who came to Greece in 2016, has been on the front lines of refugee rights advocacy in his new country.
“Some of the people evicted are now in camps,” he said, explaining that others ended up homeless in the streets.
“They are acting like real fascists, and they are lying about refugees in the media, saying we are moving drugs,” he said. “They treat refugees like garbage. Everything is getting worse.”
The uptick in efforts to evict the squats comes months after the right-wing New Democracy party took control of the governing coalition after ousting the left-wing Syriza party, which had been in power since first surging in elections in January 2015.
At the time of publication, the Hellenic Police had not replied to TRT World’s request for comment.
Last week, during police raids in Exarchia, more than 140 foreign nationals were detained as four squats were evicted. Three of the squats were home to refugees and migrants.
At its peak, more than 2,500 refugees and migrants resided in several squats around the city, many of them in Exarchia.
Bottlenecked in Greece
Hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants have crossed through Greece since the refugee crisis erupted in 2015.
That year, more than 850,000 refugees and migrants reached European shores by crossing the Meditteranean Sea, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
After borders across the Balkan route began to close in 2016, tens of thousands of refugees and migrants found themselves bottlenecked in Greece.
Today, upwards of 50,000 refugees and migrants- many of them having fled war or economic catastrophe- remain within Greece’s borders, according to the International Rescue Committee.
So far this year, more than 26,000 refugees and migrants have reached Europe by sea, while nearly 8,000 have arrived on the continent via land crossings, the UNHCR says.
This week, authorities renewed the transfers of hundreds of refugees and migrants that had been on a handful of Aegean islands, where thousands of asylum seekers and others have been stuck in increasingly decrepit conditions in refugee camps and barred from leaving without permission.
On Monday, more than 600 refugees and migrants reached the northern coastal city of Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, after being transferred from Lesbos Island, home to Moria refugee camp.
The move came as the number of boat arrivals to Lesbos experienced a sharp uptick in recent days, with hundreds arriving by sea.
More than 11,000 refugees and migrants are currently on Lesbos, according to the Greek government’s tally.
In a statement posted on its website, the anti-fascist activist group Keerfa condemned the government’s “racist” policies, which it said pushed asylum seekers into camps akin to “ghettos”.
“It’s time to reject the poisonous, racist policies and say no to bigotry,” the statement said, denouncing the “detention policies” targeting refugees and migrants, among them unaccompanied minors.
Although the previous Syriza-led government had been widely criticised for its policies toward refugees and migrants, the newly-elected right-wing coalition has appeared to escalate the crackdown.
As the number of arrivals to Greek islands picked up, government spokesman Stelios Petsas called for “new, robust policies”.
Among the policies the government could introduce are increased police patrols to search for rejected asylum applicants still residing in the country and bulking up the number of boats on patrol in the Aegean Sea.
The European Union’s external border agency, Frontex, and NATO will help with efforts to monitor Greece’s borders, Kathimerini reported earlier this week.
Hampay expects the situation to continue worsening for refugees in Greece. “Every day the streets are full of police,” he said. “We don't even know how many people they are trying to deport.”