More and more inner-city neighborhoods in Athens are being overwhelmed by refugees. There is rising tension, sometimes expressed in protest marches or even violence, between refugees and local residents of the neighborhood. The article below illustrates this tension.
As tensions rise between Greeks and the established immigrants living in the central Athens district of Aghios Panteleimonas, on the one hand, and the rising number of illegal immigrants, chiefly from Afghanistan, on the other, both sides tell Kathimerini they feel trapped.
Matina Papadopoulou, a 40-year-old mother of two, was one of dozens of locals who attended a demonstration in the district’s central square last week, protesting at the rising number of illegal immigrants arriving in the area. She told Kathimerini that she has nothing against the migrants themselves but against the lack of remedial action by authorities, which is turning the area into a ghetto for migrants. “People say the migrants should be granted asylum – asylum means shelter and food, not the church steps,” Papadopoulou said, referring to the dozens of illegal immigrants sitting on roadsides and in the central church square. The 40-year-old, who lives in a block accommodating five Greek families, expressed exasperation at human rights activists lobbying for migrants’ rights but not necessarily taking action. “I am the one that feels sorry for the migrants, I buy them food from the street market when I see them sitting hungry on the street,” she said.
Papadopoulou’s chief concern for her children is that the area is becoming increasingly downgraded. “It is already a run-down area with the influx of Afghans,” she remarked.
But local Afghans say they are merely seeking to survive, having fled their war-torn country. Ahmet and his family arrived in Athens from their hometown of Herat four months ago, paying $17,000 for the arduous journey. “I just want a job, legal papers and home for my family to live in – nothing else,” Ahmet told Kathimerini. For the past few weeks, he has lived in a dingy block full of illegal immigrants but cannot stay there long. The apartment’s main tenant, who sublets his rooms to newly arrived migrants as a first port of call, said he could not keep them there much longer. “I cannot let them stay more than three or four days more, there are already too many of us in the house,” he said. “I don’t know what will become of them,” he added.
My question: As followers of Christ, what is our commitment to a particular neighborhood? If the demographics of our neighborhood are changing (for whatever reason), when do we pack up and leave with the rest of our neighbors, and when do attempt something counter-cultural – to stay and minister to a neighborhood by demonstrating hope in the midst of fear, peace in the midst of flux, love in the midst of hate?