ATHENS – There aren’t many Greeks left in Omonia Square, which some years ago used to be a rotary with a fountain and greenery, but in recent years has become a Third World cement cesspool, an urban nightmare of filth, drug users and pushers, prostitutes, human traffickers, illegal immigrants and criminals, from places like Albania, Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan and eastern Europe. Some 18 hotels closed in the area in the last two years, victims of the economic crisis, but also of the ignorance of successive mayors who just didn’t care what happened two blocks from City Hall.
The current Mayor, George Kaminis, who was born in New York and is an American citizen, has some grand plans to reclaim the neighborhood and that includes driving out the undesirable elements, so the police have recently been rounding up hundreds of people and checking their papers and arresting them, while Citizens Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis is preparing plans to build 30 detention centers around the country – not to house the criminals, but the illegal immigrants, some 30,000 of them. He’s running into resistance from Greeks who want the immigrants picked up but not put in their backyards, of course, just somebody else’s.
It seems a good idea for a country whose borders are so porous to stem the inflow of illegal immigrants, so it doesn’t risk its borders being closed to free travel within the countries in the European Union under the so-called Schengen agreement, which means you don’t have to stop at checkpoints if you want to go between countries. After decades of pretty much letting in everybody who could sneak across from Turkey or northern borders or by boat from the sea to the south, it looks like Greece is finally trying to seal itself off, utilizing plans such as building a fence along the Turkish line. The problem, of course, is that before long the people who will return to Omonia are the real criminals who pay off the police or provide sex slaves to insure they can stay in operation, and when the cash-strapped government runs out of money to keep the crackdown going, it will find it’s expensive to imprison people who shouldn’t have been in Greece in the first place.
Mixed in with the Greek version of the criminals Cuba shipped to the United States in order to get rid of them are legitimate asylum seekers fleeing real oppression in other countries, who will now get caught up in the mix. Not that it did them much good before, as until recent times, when things had improved a bit thanks to the incessant work of groups such as UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency that is filled with decent people doing a tough job, only 1 applicant in 10,000 had been granted asylum. UNHCR recently released a report too showing that racism remains rampant in Greece where groups such as the neo-Nazi immigrant-bashing Golden Dawn and nationalist nut jobs take to harassing everyone who can’t prove they were descended from Pericles.
It doesn’t help the cause of immigrants, who just want what everyone wants from life, that the criminals among them make otherwise decent Greeks walk across the street to avoid anyone with darker skin. A spate of crime involving immigrants attacking people has hurt the cause and made many people not care what happens to immigrants, as they try to survive in an economic crisis that economic criminals such as the successive leaders of the PASOK Anti-Socialists and New Democracy Uber-Conservatives created and in which they’ve prospered.
There’s real compassion fatigue in Greece because when everyone in your house is out of work you pretty much don’t care what happens to some Pakistani or Iraqi, so the immigrants have taken to creating an enclave for themselves in Omonia and the area around City Hall. If you go down there on Sundays you’ll find yourself in a sea of thousands of immigrants, and if you go down there at night and survive make sure to write home about it.
There has been an expansion of the hard-core immigrant area up to the University of Athens where drug users sit openly against the walls of the school and shoot up during the day while other illegal immigrants open their blankets before the Panepistimiou Metro station and sell counterfeit goods. It’s been the same around the National Museum area, which is a trash can of depravity despite the presence of a police substation right in the middle of it. You can take pictures of drug dealers but if you take a picture of the police watching them you’ll face having your camera confiscated because it’s against the law to take photos of cops, especially if they’re watching drug deals a few yards away and ignoring them. It’s a great place for tourists though, but only if they like to see syringes and used condoms and don’t mind the smell of sour urine on the walls of the museum.
These criminals and drug users and human traffickers are the type of people that the government should have rounded up long before they overwhelmed the heart of the city and operated with impunity, so what took so long is one question, but the other is: why aren’t the people who let them thrive in this area and caused the real ruination of Greece not being rounded up and put in detention centers too?