New dedicated migrant bus route prompts outrage in Greece
A new bus route devised specifically for migrants has sparked outrage in a town in northern Greece, with accusations of segregation and racism following hostility to migrants from some locals.
In 2016 an old military settlement in Diavata, on the outskirts of Thessaloniki, has been turned into a refugee camp for about 1,000 people, 30 of whom are unaccompanied minors.
The camp has been met with hostile protests since the beginning. In 2016, when construction started, former Mayor Mimis Fotopoulos was assaulted by locals who opposed it.
Protests by anti-refugee groups have been mounting since then. Most recently, in November, a “barbeque against illegal migrants” was organised by a group called “United Macedonians” where attendants ate pork and drank alcohol in view of the camp’s mostly Muslim residents.
The action drew heavy criticism. Senior members of the governing conservative New Democracy party expressed their support for the barbeque, and one of them even attended. Other members of the party condemned the event.
The “Ionia Committee”, another protest group of locals against the camp has been pushing for a separate bus line.
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In early November, a spokesperson claimed that the number 54 bus, which currently services both residents and the camp, “is filled with migrants and locals can’t fit on”, adding that there have been reports of harassment.
On their Facebook page, the Ionia Committee described the approval of the new bus line as a “vindication of their struggle”.
In a press release, the Communist Party of Greece said the decision on the new bus “caters to the far-right, ramps up racist views and is no cause for celebration”. Users on social media have also described the decision as “racist” and have drawn parallels with mid-century segregation in the US.
Greek newspaper Documento likened the route to 20th-century segregation in the US Deep South with a headline saying it was like “Alabama ’55”, while local news outlet Alterthess in an editorial described it as “an ignorant decision that resembles dark times”.
The bus will go by the refugee camp and then follow a parallel route to the existing one. The municipality’s announcement claimed that the new line would “relieve line 54 which services Diavata”.
Ioannis Ioannidis, the Mayor of Delta claims that it wasn’t the Committee, but the Municipality that requested the bus line and dismisses all criticism of segregation. “The issue is that OASTH has greatly reduced bus routes”, he told The Daily Telegraph. “The new bus will also pick up locals and visitors along the way, it will not start from the camp and head straight to the train station”.
Evangelos Papadakis, a Public Information Officer in UNHCR’s Thessaloniki branch says they expect the new bus will benefit the residents in the area, but they will remain sceptical until its exact route and the particulars of accessibility to all are announced.
According to recent data, there are 103,500 refugees staying in Greece. 71,368 arrivals have been recorded in 2019.
More than a million refugees have passed through Greece since 2015. Hardened immigration laws have made it difficult for them to be relocated towards mainland EU. Anti-refugee protests have broken out in various locations across the country over the last few months.