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Exarcheia: A Greek Neighborhood on the Verge of Being Erased

Exarcheia is a neighborhood composed of refugees located within Athens, Greece. Since July, when the New Democracy Party took office, there have been threats of eviction within Exarcheia. 

Nostra 26 is an organized refugee squat located in Exarcheia. Hundreds of refugees seek shelter and safety within Nostra 26. This squat is a safer, friendlier alternative to a refugee camp. 

By no means is Nostra 26 new to the neighborhood. Since 2015, when the refugee crisis began, refugees have looked to Nostra for safety. According to The Guardian, since September 2015, over 9,000 refugees have settled in Nostra 26. Since July of this year, refugees have begun to face the threat of eviction and deportation. 

The New Democracy Party, led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has pledged to bring back law and order to Greece. In early August, the right-wing party announced its plans to evict all refugee and anarchist squats within Exarcheia. 

Though Exarcheia has been a safe haven for refugees in the past, it is also the center of anarchist and political activism within Greece. This combination of people seeking refuge from authoritarian governments, dictators, and religious persecution makes for an interesting dynamic as anarchists and political activists share the streets with refugees. To say that all refugees are anarchists attempting to overthrow the government would be incorrect. The New Democracy Party does not seem to care whether the residents of Exarcheia are refugees or anarchists, and all groups within Exarcheia are facing threats of eviction. 

Countless refugees and activists have attempted to restrict the presence of drug dealers and gangs within Exarcheia. According to The Guardian, activists have planted trees, offered concerts and even led night patrols through the neighborhood. Exarcheia’s residents have actively attempted to make their neighborhood safer, but minimal progress has been made.

A large reason for the presence of drug dealers and gangs in Exarcheia is its location. Exarcheia is wedged between two universities, the University of Athens and Athens Polytechnic University. In Greece, there is an academic sanctuary law. This law is designed to protect student protesters and the freedom of ideas. As a result, police activity is severely restricted on college campuses. Though Exarcheia is not a college campus, it is wedged between two, making for a tricky route for police to take when patrolling. For quite a while, the police would simply avoid the area completely. For these reasons, drug dealers and gangs have taken advantage of the area.  

Since the announcement to evict all refugees and anarchists’ squats in August, no evictions have occurred yet. However, there has been police movement through Exarcheia on a daily basis. According to The Guardian, the police have also erased and covered up countless murals and graffiti art within the neighborhood. 

It is important to note that the Ministry of Migration, which oversees migration and refugees, has been eliminated. The Ministry of Citizen Protection now oversees those respective responsibilities. The Ministry of Citizen Protection is also in charge of the police. 

It is clear that the New Democracy Party wants to “clean up Exarcheia” as cited in their campaign back in July. There has been and continues to be a sense of hope within the neighborhood amongst the refugee community. In an interview with The Guardian, Salif, a resident in Nostra 26 said, “The squat is important for me because I feel a little more human. We have space to sleep, neighbors and a neighborhood around us.” It is uncertain how much longer these neighbors and this neighborhood will be around. It is clear that though murals and graffiti have been erased, these refugees will not allow themselves to be erased.