NEARLY three hundred migrant workers, almost all of north African origin, have been on a mass hunger strike in Greece since Tuesday demanding: ‘the legalisation of all migrant workers living in Greece today.’
About 240 migrant workers have been given shelter in an unused hall of the Law School of the Athens University and another 50 have been housed in a hall of the Salonica Trades Council in northern Greece.
A large banner next to the hall proclaims: ‘Hunger strike – Brother Greek workers, we ask for support – Immigrants Forum of Crete’.
Close to the Law School about 20 Afghan refugees have set up makeshift huts and have also been on hunger strike for over three weeks demanding political asylum.
Nearly all of the immigrant workers on hunger strike have travelled to Athens and Salonica from the city of Chania, on the island of Crete, where they have been living. The hunger strike has been organised by the Immigrants’ Forum of the island of Crete.
Greek state authorities estimate that there are about 400,000 ‘illegal immigrants’ presently living in Greece. They are literally persecuted as criminals by police, and live under appalling conditions, hugely exploited in agricultural and small factory jobs.
Frequently Greek police carry out pogroms against immigrants cordoning off whole areas, even in Athens, and arresting everyone until they prove they are Greek citizens or ‘legal’ immigrants.
At a press conference held last Tuesday at the Law School of the Athens University, Abdul, speaking on behalf of those in hunger strike, said ‘we are not criminals; we won’t leave this hall until we get residence permits; we are prepared to die to get equal rights.’
Markos Chatzisavas, of the Immigrants Forum of Crete, called on Greek people to support the immigrants’ workers action and demands.
The lawyer Vassilis Papadopoulos stated that it was back in 2006 that the Greek state carried out a limited ‘legalisation’ programme.
Petros Saltamouris, a law student representing the Left Unity students’ group, said that the Law School’s students union unanimously decided to make the university hall available to immigrants for their hunger strike.
This decision was taken, he said, despite pressure from the government and from right-wing parties.
Other speakers stated that representatives of the Immigrants Forum met last Monday with the Deputy Labour Minister Anna Dalara, and that a meeting with the Ministry for the Interior Yiannis Ragousis is being set up.
Following a dismissive statement by Prime Minister Yiorghos Papandreou several Cabinet Ministers stated that the immigrants’ action was unacceptable and called on the Athens University authorities to ‘take all legal measures necessary’ to end the action – implying violent police eviction.
Ragousis stated that the government has no intention of legalising any immigrant.
The Greek University Lecturers’ union, the president of the Law School and the chancellor of the Athens University have made statements against the immigrants’ action.
The right-wing opposition party New Democracy and the ex-Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyianni have made virulent statements against the immigrants and condemned state authorities for allowing immigrants to travel to Athens and Salonica; they have also called on the University of Athens authorities to take action against the immigrants.
The leader of the New Democracy party, Andonis Samaras, and the leader of the anti-immigration party LAOS, Yiorghos Karatzaferis, have called for the abolition of the Academic Asylum established in Greece following the overthrow of the military junta in 1974.
The Greek Communist Party’s daily Rizospastis in a front page article refused to offer support to the immigrants’ hunger strike stating that ‘those who led the immigrants into the Law School do not serve the just demands of the immigrants and refugees but on the contrary they expose them to the threats of the reactionaries and to state oppression’.
But messages of support from civil rights organisations and trade unions have been arriving at the Law School hall. Hundreds of students and workers have visited the hall to show their support.
Solidarity messages can be e-mailed to Immigrants Forum of Crete at: