DIKTYO is not a political party or a movement. As written on its Facebook page, it is a network “part of the anti-capitalist, internationalist and democratic left” in Greece. It fights to defend the social and political rights of those layers of the population which feel less represented by the traditional parliamentary parties, hence for the opening of social spaces in order to set up a reference point for this kind of struggle. In this regard, politics is used as a mean of proposing an alternative model of society: more functional, closer to the real needs of the population and at the same time based on self-organisation and “horizontal” collaboration, rather than a rigid and hierarchical model as the current one.
Over the years, the action has focused on the struggle against globalization, austerity policies, the European Troika (actively participating to the Syntagma Square mass protests) and subsequently supporting minority rights and the LGBT community. After 2004 general elections, which saw SYRIZA winner, DIKTYO took a critical position of support towards the former, which then turned into a definitive break after the July 2015 referendum and the signing of the Third Economic Adjustment Program in August. The recent events concerning the Syrian war and the arrival of migratory waves from the Middle East and Africa, have led the Network to further embrace the anti-racist fight, also supporting asylum seekers all over Greece by putting into practice the experience accumulated over the years and creating concrete realities such as that of City Plaza, DIKTYO’s flagship.
An example of solidarity and resistance
The group manifesto speaks clearly: reforming Greece in order to reform Europe.
Following the signing of the treaty between Europe and Turkey and the closure of the Balkan route in March 2016, policies of border militarization have been implemented by most EU countries, leading to a different management of the crisis between central and peripheral areas of Europe. Therefore, a buffer zone comprehensive of the country’s islands has been created around Greece in order to impose the asylum system as an access point to the fortress called Europe, with an ambivalent role of cap and valve depending on the necessities.
Of course, this has led to protests by migrants, who at that time lacked a strong political representation by which to be backed-up and to use in order to make themselves be heard. DIKTYO, therefore, readily took this position, supporting the asylum seekers’ cause. Since the beginning, the Network has been working in the islands against the creation of hotspots and against the implementation of the European deportation system, as well as taking a stand beside the refugees in protesting against the disastrous living conditions existing in the refugee camps. Today, alongside the non-stop commitment in the islands, in mainland Greece the solidarity action is more focused on ensuring fundamental rights such as health care, education, and housing.
We were in September at one of the annual coordination meetings organised by the Network. The self-organized and self-funded rally took place near Preveza, in north-western Greece, in a camping on the shores of the Mediterranean sea. The three-days program addressed issues regarding recent events both concerning foreign (extra European too) and internal politics. The debate events were structured in two parts: the first being a presentation of the events by the moderator, and the second one a collective discussion and ideas comparison between the attendees. On the last day of the rally the participants, coming from all over Greece, unanimously outlined a set of guidelines to be followed, with regards to the actions to be taken in the future and the management policies to be implemented in the squats supported by the Network.
Particular attention was obviously put on the migrant question, with the first day devoted to take stock of the situation of the various refugee camps and squats where DIKTYO is present. The coordinators of the various solidarity actions based all over the country, including the islands, confirmed the seriousness of the situation with their reports, beginning with the lack of organization at an institutional level.
The health system implemented inside the refugee camps was another of the issues addressed, together with the high load of responsibility put on the voluntary organisations. In spite of this, NGOs have so far been able to respond to the problems and flaws left by the governmental program, which, announced in August 2016, is still not fully operational. In addition, most of the refugees have still not received their national healthcare number needed to access health services, a matter already discussed in the past. At the moment, NGO’s efforts are mainly concentrated on making the government aware of the need of translator and doctors, without whom, especially the former, it is difficult to keep working and assisting people.
In Thessaloniki, on the other hand, two squats were cleared last summer, and the processes of eviction for public and private spaces currently occupied by migrants is still in progress. In spite of this, the solidarity movement is very supportive, especially in universities, where seminars about children co-education are organised, although it is difficult to maintain stable and long-lasting relationships due to the continuous change of people among the migrant population.
Nasim, who is also one of City Plaza’s main coordinators, recently came back from a supervision trip in Lesbos and the neighbouring islands, so he spoke about the situation in that area. There, the average number of dinghies arriving, at that time, was still three to four a day, most likely due to the political relations between Europe and Turkey no longer as flourishing as at the time of the signing of the EU-Turkey agreement. The situation in Moria’s hotspots was, Nasim said,”disastrous, even worse than in Samos, where some 1,500 people are currently in one of the camps“. In many refugee camps, in fact, NGOs are no longer allowed by the government to enter or carry out any kind of activity, except for UNHCR, which has however questioned its presence due to the extreme conditions under which both volunteers and refugees are forced to live and work. It is indeed for these reasons that in April an uprising broke out in Moria camp, following which 35 migrants were arrested by the Greek police. Finally, in Chios one of the “open” refugee camps, so called because it was not controlled by the government but it was instead born spontaneously, was evicted by the authorities, which eventually will probably also do the same with the camp located in the city centre.
Then it is Olga‘s turn to talk about City Plaza, where she is part of the coordinators team too. The “Refugee Accommodation and Solidarity Space City Plaza” project was born in April 2016 with the squatting of former same-name hotel, which had been closed for seven years following its bankruptcy. Along with other initiatives and squats, its main aim is to provide refugees with a fair accommodation, in contrast with government policies of detention present in the large refugee camps where the most fundamental rights are often left behind. Doing so, DIKTYO also seeks to create a safe and secure space for refugees, demonstrating how it is possible to obtain social rights with a struggle based only on self-organisation and equality, therefore providing a solution to the needs of those who would otherwise be left alone or without assistance.
The importance of the City Plaza project is reflected in the figures reported by Olga: 7 floors, 126 rooms, of which 26 are dedicated to volunteers living in the building, two classrooms used as classrooms, a space exclusively reserved to women, the Women’s Space, and one dedicated to children, the Kid’s Corner. More than 1,700 people, between refugees and volunteers, have been part of this big family since City Plaza has re-opened, while to date over 4,000 people have signed up waiting be accommodated.
Residents actively participate in the squat life, carrying out daily tasks and taking the responsibility for managing activities, in addition to participating to the weekly meetings which regulate the life of City Plaza. The number of people is more or less balanced between families and single men and women. Recently, however, there has been an increase in the number of single individuals that stay only for few days or weeks, unlike the first eight months of activity when the squat population was much more stable and there were hardly free rooms before a month or two.
Migrants living at City Plaza, do not have access to the so-called cash cards, which are prepaid cards provided by the government for daily expenses only available to those who are registered in state controlled refugee camps. This behaviour is sought by Greek and EU administrations in order to push people to move to refugee camps, so to better control migratory flows.
City Plaza has then become a solid example of strength, solidarity and coexistence, defined by DIKTYO’s moral, social and political values. A strong demonstration that there are alternative methods of managing this crisis across Europe.
Among the other topics discussed at the rally in Preveza, there was also the one concerning the conditions and accommodation procedures for migrants. In fact, with winter coming, for the people living in camps and hotspots there is now a new threat to face: the cold. Last year, six people died in Moria (Lesbos) due to the extreme cold weather and inadequate living conditions. Today more than 5,000 people live in that refugee camp, which normally can accommodate up to 2,000 people. Furthermore, it is important to note that among the population of the camps there are also disabled and sick people, pregnant women, people suffering from psychological trauma, and a very high number of children, including a lot of unaccompanied minors. Likewise, in Samos, Chios, Kos, and Leros, the situation is far from better, and in total there are more than 8,000 asylum seekers without adequate shelter for the winter. So, with the bad season coming and the present situation, the already overcrowded reception centres will probably not be able to cope with the adverse meteorological conditions already experienced last year, or even there is a plan for certain conditions to be properly countered.
For this reason, over 40 solidarity groups and organizations, including Diktyo, have launched on their social media a campaign with the hashtags #OpenTheIslands and #WinterIsComing. The latter in particular was called on the Greek government and the European Union in order to take, as soon as possible, necessary measures so to avoid any further loss of human lives due to the poor management of this humanitarian crisis, especially at this time of the year. The will is once again that to denounce how the extremely difficult situations encountered by the refugees are not only caused by the seasonal conditions or by the increase of landings on the Greek islands, but rather are a direct consequence of the Europe-Turkey agreement and of the immigration policies carried out by the European Union. The 40 organizations thus seek to highlight how the strategies implemented so far only cause people to get trapped in the islands, preventing them from reaching the EU countries and at the same time to exercise their right to get reunified with their families within a reasonable time.
On the other hand, the Greek government said it is ready to face any eventuality, and recently announced the delivery of €700 million from Brussels in order to meet the needs of the upcoming winter, in addition to other long-time aid plans. But the NGO group has also called for the establishment of a government-run management team, condemning the current practice of avoiding blame and responsibility for the systematic violation of refugees’ rights. However, disapproval also hit municipalities, large organisations such as UNHCR and the staff working in the RICs (Reception and Identification Centres), which have for sure shown themselves solid at the side of the “Group of 40” in launching the alarm from the islands, but have been criticised for the lack of practical actions.
In this scenario characterised by a contrasting frame made up of NGOs on one side and the Greek government and the European Union on the other, DIKTYO arises as an alternative solution. “Greece is as much part of Europe as there’s no Europe without Greece” can be read on DIKTYO’s manifesto, which then continues by addressing Brussels with the will to build a Europe able to guarantee peace, democracy and the well-being of its citizens through the promotion of solidarity. A perspective that originates from Greece in order to hopefully outline the future of the whole European Union.