City Plaza Hotel: a landmark of solidarity in Athens

Atlas des Migrants 2017

These illustrations were born from encounters. Beyond discussions, there sometimes emerge links of fondness and friendship between migrants, activists and researchers, which can produce crucial information for our understanding of seemingly inconceivable processes.

As soon as the “migration corridor” was closed in Spring 2016, the streets of the Greek capital became home to more than 25,000 homeless people. In opposition to the “encampment policy” of the Greek government, squats were opened by local activist collectives. These alternative housing projects mirror other mobilisations by “solidarians” throughout the world.

From Dec 2016 to Jan 2017, we spent 4 weeks living at the City Plaza Hotel, the biggest squat in Athens, which hosts over 500 people.

At that time, there were some fifteen migrants squats in the city, (re)opened by activists in unoccupied or abandoned buildings. It is not coincidental that these new forms of welcome spread so easily in Greece: in Exarcheia, far-left networks, which have been substituting for the State since the economic crisis, immediately integrated the issue of refugees in the broader solidarity movement, and the already existing “squat culture” was mobilised towards the reception of foreigners.

The squats, unlike humanitarian camps, offer comfortable and familiar spaces, which can be appropriated, and a central location in the city, making access to services easier.

Moreover, the daily self-management at the basis of these forms of solidarity insists on everyone being an actor of his or her own life, in sharp contrast with the “dependency relations” enshrined in “humanitarian government”. The consequence is the disappearance of the distinction between “volunteer” / “beneficiary” characteristic of humanitarian work: we all live in the same place, we are all collectively responsible for the community.

The squats, whilst primarily places of everyday life and of local welcome, are always aware of the political dimension at the heart of their project. At the City Plaza Hotel, networks of international solidarity are forged, contributing to the emergence of communities beyond borders. This local experiment thus partakes in a wider struggle: the opening of borders and freedom of movement.

Authors of the map: Sarah Bachellerie and Sophie Clair

Map from: Migreurop (2017), Atlas des Migrants en Europe. Approches critiques des politiques migratoires, Paris, Armand Colin.

The book will be published in English before the end of 2018.