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“We struggle together, we live together"

Mara Scampoli and Mattia Alunni Cardinali photo
Mara Scampoli and Mattia Alunni CardinaliAthens, Greece
“We struggle together, we live together"
The Refugee Accommodation and Solidarity Space City Plaza is a self-coordinated and privately funded facility placed in Athens city centre, which provides support to refugees who struggle to survive and want to reach Europe.

A lot has been written about the self-organised facility housed inside the former City Plaza hotel in Athens. Studied by the academic world and followed by international media, it has by now become a role model in the alternative refugees welcome process.

Indeed, City Plaza is not just one of the many shelters born all over Europe in order to provide an accommodation for migrants where the government action cannot reach, it is a challenge and the result of a common mindset based on self-organisation and solidarity, the outcome of DIKTYO's (Network for Social and Political Rights) 20 years long committment and experience.

Doing so, this independent network, which is part of the Greek far-left scene, proposes an alternative formula of social organisation based on a model of self-coordination and "horizontal" collaboration, rather than a traditional hierarchical one.

City Plaza's main entrance (photo credit: Mara Scampoli) .

What is City Plaza.

A little girl runs along one of the many corridors leading to the hotel's rooms (photo credit: Mattia Alunni Cardinali).

Last April 22nd, the "Refugee Accommodation and Solidarity Space City Plaza" celebrated its first year of life. Over this time span the structure has seen more than 1,700 people coming and going inside its premises, between volunteers and refugees.

In its 126 rooms, of which 26 are reserved for volunteer staff, the building is able to accommodate about 400 people, among which there are about a hundred families.

The priority over the right to reside in City Plaza is given on the basis of the family's or person's previous placement (which most of the times is the street) and depending on the existence of particular problems or difficulties that might affect the family or the single persons.

Rooms and beds are instead allocated with particular attention in order to avoid the building up of ethnic or religious nucleus, a factor that is also taken care of on a floor basis, so as to maintain a certain heterogeneity.

The building, which was kept closed for seven years following the business declared bankruptcy, was squatted in 2016 by a group of activists and migrants, including DIKTYO, the former SYRIZA's Youth and Antarsya, a radical leftist group from Athens.

Shortly afterwards, given the advanced self-organisation developed by City Plaza, the three groups decided to take a step back in the management of the structure, passing the lead on to the local team living inside the building, but keeping on supporting them from the political point of view.

"Everyone, refugees and volunteers, can participate and bring forward ideas and issues."

From that moment on, this self-government experiment has been organised through a series of weekly meetings based on the concept of shared coexistence and work, to which everyone, refugees and volunteers, can participate and bring forward ideas and issues.

Doing so, the goal is to put into practice an idea of ​​everyday life which could empower the individual. Therefore, City Plaza lives this way through the active collaboration of volunteers and residents, and is supported economically only through private donations, which come from all over the world.

The courtyard at the back of the hotel where weekly meetings are held in order to plan City Plaza's life (photo credit: Mattia Alunni Cardinali).

However, this project lives in a contex of uncertainty characterised from one side by the constant risk of eviction represented by the police, and, on the other side, the acts of intimidation carried on by far-right groups such as Golden Dawn.

In this situation, which is equally shared with at least twelve more squats in the Athenian neighbourhood of Exarchia and innumerable refugee camps throughout Greece, City Plaza is trying to create an anti-racist network of solidarity and resistance, also thought to target the migration policies issued by the Greek government.

From this point of view, this occupation can be seen as a concrete action towards the claim of social and political rights for refugees and migrants, as well as an act of resistance against the migration policies imposed by the EU in this crisis, first of all the “Europe-Turkey agreement” signed in March 2016.

In this way, City Plaza represents a counter-proposal to the housing problem at which institutions respond to by creating refugee camps and hotspots that often lack the very basic services.