Police raided two derelict buildings in central Athens yesterday, evacuating dozens of illegal immigrants who had been living there in squalid conditions and detaining more than 30 who could not produce identification papers.
The raids are believed to signal the launch of a major crackdown by authorities on thousands of undocumented migrants squatting in abandoned buildings in the city’s historic center, coming just a few weeks after the eviction of around 600 migrants from the former Athens appeals court building on Socratous Street.
The owners of the two buildings raided yesterday were detained by police who said the suspects had been charging resident migrants 5 a day euros each for the privilege of sharing a filthy room with dozens of others.
Of the 139 illegal immigrants, chiefly Somalians, removed from the premises of the two buildings near central Koumoundourou Square yesterday, 31 were detained for lacking residence permits. One man who allegedly attacked an officer with a switchblade, without injuring him, was held for illegal possession of a weapon. The fate of the evacuated migrants, including 40 women and children, remained unclear.
After the clear-out, a police search of the premises of the two apartment blocks unearthed small quantities of drugs, fueling speculation that local drug dealers are using migrants to do their dirty work.
Police who entered the buildings yesterday following appeals by prefectural officials who described the sites as a public health risk are said to be planning raids on another 10 squats in the area in the next few days. There are believed to be hundreds of derelict apartment blocks being occupied by illegal immigrants in the greater Athens area alone.
Yesterday’s raids were criticized by leftist and human rights groups who also slammed government plans to round up illegal immigrants in disused military facilities which they dismissed as “concentration camps.” One of the planned reception centers is slated for Rio, in the Peloponnese, but the project has stalled due to opposition by local residents.