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Old against new immigrants on the St. Panteleimon square

10 November 2010 / 10:11:02  GRReporter
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The area around the church of St. Panteleimon, some say the biggest in the Balkans, is located right in downtown Athens. Once it was of high esteem to live here or in the neighbouring districts of Kipseli and Patisia. "I have been living in this neighbourhood for 50 years. It was paradise once and you can see what it looks like now," said the 76-year-old Michalis. "We sit in the park to 2 o’clock at noon. Then we go home and do not dare go outside," continued the story the old man, his friends with whom I found him to talk nodding to confirm his words.

But what happens in this very central part of Athens? Greece opened its border with Albania 20 years ago and many Albanians were allowed to enter the country to work. Only men arrived at first who worked and sent money to their families in Albania. In the course of time families started to arrive that settled here, their children were born in Greece and they do not even know the homeland of their parents well. Many of these emigrants from Albania live exactly in this part of Athens. Some of them have bought homes and have even established their own businesses - mostly grocery stores and services in the construction sector. They were not hearty welcomed by the old residents of the neighbourhood but gradually they got used to live together.

"However, it’s been awful here for ten years. It is full of foreigners. Anything has happened here. Beatings, assaults, drugs, prostitution, shootings have taken place even in the square. We hear constantly of robberies, burglaries. When I get my pension from the bank I am rushing to get home lest someone rob me. Here, see what's in my purse," continued Michalis and showed me old foreign banknotes. "Let them take these," the old man laughed.

Just across the church 2-3 groups of men were playing board games. "I have been living here for 12 years. My kids grew up on the square," said one 40-year-old Albanian who watched his compatriots while playing dominoes. All of them are unemployed and are waiting the construction developer to come and look for workers. They do not like the illegal immigrants either and they even claim that they have contributed for the immigrants not to pass by the square. They said the local Greeks on the one hand murmur against illegal immigrants, but on the other they benefit from them, giving them housing and rental outlets and employing them at very low wages.

Athenians call the neighbourhood ‘the ghetto’, many of the old residents are leaving it, and old shops are closed and replaced by numerous new ones. Inscription signs in Arabic or Indian languages appear increasingly. Some of the local residents met with eggs and yoghurt the candidates of some leftist parties during the election campaign who stand unconditionally on the side of immigrants and believe that the resentment against them is caused only by the far-right propaganda.

On the other hand, the presence of the far-right party Golden Dawn is obvious. Photos of its candidate for mayor of Athens are everywhere. The blinds of a Pakistani barber salon read ‘Aliens - out of Greece.’

While talking with Michalis and his friends – pensioners, people passed by and saluted them. Their accents showed their origin: Russian, Albanian, Georgian. "Of course, not all are bad. Life is equally difficult for all of us," said Michalis, glanced at his watch and went home.

Tags: Greek racismSt. PanteleimonIllegal immigrantsSociety
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