When I first visited Athens, almost exactly a year ago, the area between the Polytechnic and the Museum of Archeology in lower Exarchia was a no-go area. Through the day, the area was littered with used needles other debris of drug paraphenalia, while at night between 50-100 would gather there. Dimly lit and with police stationed at the top and the bottom, the shadowy outlines of people injecting could be observed. Open fights would break out from time to time, and once I watched as a woman, who was clearly not in the healthiest of states, being dragged from the area bodily and thrown into a car.
When I returned to Athens in September, the area was still populated by drug users, however the number had swelled massively now comprising several hundred and filling the area. Within a few weeks of my arrival, the area had been cleared – completely cleared. The drug users had now moved closer in to Exarchia, taking up the entirity of the pavement outside the polytechnic, the pavement opposite and several of the small side roads. People were openly cooking up and injecting in the street. Over the next few months, the drug of choice appeared to change from heroin to crack cocaine, where users would sit smoking in doorways and on the pavement from little glass vials.
The police watched, seemingly unconcerned about either the health and wellbeing of the drug users in a city where drug support facilities have been closed and needle exhanges shut down, or about the open drug use and dealing which was now infesting a busy street lined with shops and educational facilities. Some might even have suggested that they were encouraging it. Soon, graffitti started to appear, first on walls, and then in December on the pavements as below.
On first sight I really didnt know what to make of seeing these, and my first reaction was that it was a genuine notice from the Greek Police, with only the use of English giving me cause for question, such was their complicity in the drug dealing and use. But within a few days of this graffitti appearing, the drug users were gone. Stating the obvious is sometimes a very powerful tool.
The question is …where did they go? Over the following few weeks they could be found down the sidestreets and in the quiet corners of the surrounding district, not in a large mass as before, but in small hundles numbering no more than perhaps five at a time. But now four months on, there is a distinct lack of the large quantity of drug users that there were previously. There is still one area, close to Vathis Square which is clearly populated by drug users, but that was there before, and the numbers – although larger – dont seem to have swelled by the number of drug users that were chased out of Exarchia. I’m also informed that this area is populated by people who abuse prescription drugs rather than illegal drugs, and hard drug use in the area is discouraged by the established residents.
Two rumours are circulating to explain the situation. Both drug users and homeless people are caught in the “sweeps” that the Greek Police perform daily as part of Operation Zeus. Primarily targetted at migrants – wo/men in prostitution, homeless people and drug users also find themselves dragged to police stations. It is rumoured that the police take drug users and homeless people to police stations on the outskirts of Athens for processing and then release them, under the assumption that with little resources they will not find their way back to the centre where they are more visible.
The second rumour is much more concerning – that drug users and homeless people are taken to the concentration camps which were designed for migrants awaiting deportation. If this is true, it would be an expansion of the model which it is claimed is merely a holding facility while the Greek State arranges deportation (although only one third of those caught and put in camps are ever deported according to official figures). If this is true, it would suggest that the Greek State is now performing internment of its own “undesirables”, shoving them into camps to be forgotten.
Both of these are – its should be stressed – just rumours, but with an estimated 25,000 drug users in Athens, nearly half of them using intravenously, the disappearance of several hundred from the city centre, where they had previously been tolerated – nay encouraged – by the authorities, begs the question….just where did they go?
The rumour that drug users are being sent to the migrant camps is no longer a rumour, it was confirmed by “Ekathimerini” – a large circulation Greek broadsheet (in a tiny article!) – that 123 drug users were taken to the Amygdaleza concentration camp just outside Athens at the start of March. It is perfectly possible that more have followed them.
So far the Greek government has denied that these are concentration camps, merely holding facilities for migrants awaiting deportation, but with the revalation that Greek citizens are also being held in these camps, the truth is being evident – that they are concentration camps of the type pioneered by the British in the Boer War, and refined by the Nazis in Germany.