Territorialising solidarity: Okupied refugee squats in Athens

In the early hours of the 24th of August, the housing squat for refugees and migrants, Notara 26, in Athens was the target of an incendiary attack.  The molotov and gas-bottle bombs caused serious material damage and could have killed the over 130 residents.  Fortunately, the inhabitants responded quickly enough to evacuate the building, and then with the aid of the fire department, were able to extiguish the flames.

The attack bore all of the markings of the country’s fascist elements: to terrorise and murder migrants-refugees in a desire for ethnic and racial purification; to attack and terrorise, even kill, both greek and foreigner, engaged in no-border solidarity work with refugees; to hit at the heart of Athens’ Exarchia neighbourhood, where a significant anti-authoritarian/anarchist presence has established itself over the years, to show that the fascists can attack anyone, anywhere; to feed the raging xenophobia and hostility towards those who contest the power of State-Capital.

However, Notara 26, through the work of its residents and activists, the assistance of other refugee squats in the city, along with the broader anti-authoritarian and anarchist movements, continues … a continuity that is testimony to the courage and generosity of all of those who have committed themselves in this struggle of solidarity with the “refugee crisis” spawned by the violence in Syria and elsewhere.

Solidarity and mutual aid, contrary to political-media stereotypes, have always been present amid migrants and refugees (e.g., the “Jungle” migrant camp in Calais), and between them and host communities.  The squats in Athens, their scale and number, nevertheless carry us further.

Squatting for shelter has an ancient history.  Politically motivated squatting by anarchists for the same purpose is more recent.  But in the form of okupied social centres, squats became far more than residential spaces.  If the questioning of private property was always present in squatters movements, okupied social centres, very often providing no housing, serve as thresholds of convergence and resonance for radical political militancy.  Their internal organisation as assembly based self-managed spaces are living experiments in autonomous forms of life that question and challenge the relations of power that define State-Capital, and they have been at the heart of recent mass social movements in greece, and elsewhere.

Such social spaces though are partially, but significantly, nomadic.  It is not the space which defines them, but the assembly that animates them.  And in the often violent cat and mouse game played out by authorities and okupiers, the affinity groups of evicted centres reincarnate in other okupied spaces.

 

With the refugees in Athens, the okupiers speak to communities of people, who if obliged to move, cannot and are not allowed to move without bringing down upon themselves the weight of State authority in ways not shared by local activists (e.g. the eviction of three Thessaloniki refugee squats in July).  The okupation is thus grounded in ways uncommon to the activism of okupied social centres; they are forced to territorialise.

In addition, the refugees are obviously not all anti-authoritarians and anarchists, and thus to work with them in the creation of self-managed shelters challenges all manner of pre-conceptions and habits among both local activists and refugees.  And yet, without denying the enormous challenges and difficulties that have arisen, there are today ten such self-managed spaces in the city, presently housing some 1,500 people.  (There are over 50,000 refugees in the country, which as part of the european union’s politics of stopping the flows of people, demands their interment in closed camps).  Food is provided through donations, networks of neighbourhood community kitchens and collective kitchens in the squats; donations also serve to stock medical dispensaries and volunteer medical staff from within the refugee populations or from okupied social centres provide basic health care; playrooms and clasrooms are available to children, education again very often falling to the care of teachers to be found among the refugees.

There is no practice of State/NGO type charity in any of this.  Indeed, it is categorically refused and condemned.  In the words of the Notara 26 squat’s initial statement, “This project doesn’t stand for philanthropy, state or private, but rather for a self-organised solidarity project, wherein locals and refugees-immigrants decide together.”  Everything is self-organised, voluntarily, from the most simple to the most complex, and through this extraordinary, sometimes beautifully overwhelming, expression of mutual aid, something new comes into being, something that can only be described as free human life.

If greece is the laboratory for experimenting with the violence of neoliberal capitalism in europe, anarchists in greece are engaged in the terribly courageous adventure of creating autonomy across borders.

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