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Athenians do not believe that police will successfully deal with illegal immigrants

30 March 2012 / 22:03:58  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova 


Police actions in the centre of Athens continue at a steady pace. There are police officers in all neighbourhoods where many immigrants are living and among them are Omonia Square, the area around the University of Economics on Patission Street, Kipseli neighbourhood and the Law School.

According to the Police Headquarters of Attica, on the third day of the campaign called "clean up," it involved 403 officers. The way they operate is simple: They walk around and stop immigrants to check them. If they find that, they have no documents or those available are not in order, the police officers take the immigrants to the buses. Then, they are taken to different police departments.

After a short break during the afternoon, the checks were resumed. One of the places that the police took on was Anexartisias Square (Independence), better known as Vathi Square. The police stopped the passing foreigners and checked their documents. Other colleagues of theirs walked around the streets with specially trained dogs to find houses storing drugs. Street vendors of counterfeit copies of branded products were their "target" too. Once gathered in groups of tens, immigrants got on police buses. Many of them hid their faces from cameras and photographic lenses.

Camera: Vasilis Vafidis

Vathi Square has been one of the most marginalized areas in the centre of Athens for years. The place has always been a hangout for people prone to crime and is known as a gathering place for drug addicts in the capital. According to residents and people who work there, the situation has worsened in recent years.

Ms. Maria has been living in Vathi Square in the last 48 years. Her family runs one of the small restaurants in which she has been working for many years. "I have been robbed many times. They broke into my apartment once while I was down in the restaurant and took out everything that they could. Another time I had just received my pension and they were waiting for me at the entrance. They not only took it but hit me. The entire left side of my face was bruised." The 80-year-old woman told how she had to take a taxi to go to church and that she is always looking for someone to come back together with in the dark and often dangerous streets.

"Police campaigns will not solve the problems in the centre," is the firm opinion of her daughter-in-law, who opens the restaurant every morning at 05:30. "I'm afraid, but there is no other way – we make our living from this restaurant. I come by bus and only have a bag with me for them to take it and avoid the risk of beating or hurt me." She said the problems have started after the Olympic Games in 2004, when the great flow of illegal immigrants to Greece began. "The truth is that we do not have any problems with the people from Bangladesh and Pakistan. Many of them have shops in the neighbourhood and we have quite normal relations with them. My experience and what I hear makes me say that those who make problems are the immigrants from Algeria and Morocco as well as those from Afghanistan." People from the neighbourhood told about internal bickering among the immigrants. "Once, two Afghans literally turned upside down a man from Bangladesh to take everything he brought with himself."

"Another serious problem is prostitutes, who stay on the sidewalk right in front of the shop entrances. We have seen many things throughout the years. Once, two men beat a woman across the road early in the morning. I wanted to scream for help but could not see who could come to help. So, I kept quiet because I was all alone." The most serious problem, according to her, however, is drug addicts, many of whom are far from "good" and "victims" as some try to represent them. If they fail to take their dose, they wait for you and threaten to prick you with a used syringe to take even a euro from you. What customers would come here when while you are eating someone comes to steal the food from your plate? Once a young boy, after watching a couple of foreigners while they were having lunch, left and after a few minutes raced in order to steal their camera. The man, however, was apparently on the alert and had tied it to his chair thus thwarting the intentions of the thief."

Other residents of the neighbourhood were of the opinion that the police was even late to conduct such operations against illegal immigrants. "Immigrants, who have jobs, should stay. But those who do not should go. If you have no means of living, you will inevitably resort to theft. I am tired of living in fear and uncertainty," said Ms. Nicoletta. She said that she has not carried any jewellery for a long time, as the thieves pull it straight from the ears and necks of their victims. "I carry my handbag in a bag in order to hide my purse." She also believes that the campaigns are held because of the elections, but there is hope that this situation may change. "In any case, it is abundantly clear that the Minister's actions are caused by the unpopular economic measures and especially by the rise in the percentage of approval of Golden Dawn in the centre of Athens."

"I have tried to go and live in other neighbourhoods three times, but I could not. I want to live here. I agree with the campaign and I do not really understand the reactions of people in other parts of the country, who respond against the establishment of centres for immigrants there. What is so annoying when they will be strictly guarded? They should understand that it is not possible to continue this way," was the opinion of the neighbour.

Tags: Crime newsSocietyIllegal immigrantsPoliceProstitutionDrug addictsCrime
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