Squatted Refugee Hotel: “We Don’t Want Help from the State”

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The tour began like any orthodox tour of a prized facility. “Here we have the common room where we eat together,” said Padelis proudly, with a Greek accent. “Here is the café.”

Then someone interrupted in rapid Greek and and Padelis excused himself. “I’m sorry. I have to go. I am also the doctor here.”

This is the Hotel City Plaza, a hotel in the heart of Athens that was abandonned by it’s owner during the crisis and taken over by radical pro-refugee activists who wanted to provide a functioning alternative to the official military-run camps in the arid outskirts of the lively city.

They have keys to all the rooms, electricity, a kitchen. No warm water yet, but they’re working on that.

Literally is a useless word when overused, but I’m going to have to overuse it. This is literally a hotel. There is literally a receptionist in a literal lobby whose job is quite literally to receive guests.

After that, though, everything here seems to be an alegory of what Padelis calls “the new reality in Greece” — austerity meets political confusion meets migration surge. It’s absurdist theater, flowing naturally from the absurdity of the state deciding who can live in a real hotel as a real citizen, and who has to live in a parody of a hotel, as a “refugee,” always prepared for eviction, reassignment.

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The idea for the hotel came out of a series of meetings of left activists in Athens. “We wanted something completely independent from the state,” says Padelis. “We said, ‘The EU is responsible for this crisis, for the war in some ways, supporting dictatorships. They closed the borders, they trapped thousands and thousands of people here. So we didn’t want anything to do with them.”

So far the city hasn’t threatened eviction. If there was an eviction, the government would have to relocate 400 people, 180 of whom are children.

One of the differences between the City Plaza and the other unofficial camps in Greece (the one at Port Piraeus, for example) is that they don’t even have help from big NGOs like the Red Cross. All the volunteers here, I was told, are “independents.”

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Volunteer Michal gets their hair cut in the lobby of the Hotel City Plaza.

To be honest, the couple hours I spent there were probably the most stressful hours I’ve ever spent in a hotel. Let’s be clear. Unpaid volunteers using donations to provide food, shelter, medicine, hygiene, and recreation to 400 people is not sustainable. It’s not a place for people to thrive. But it’s still pretty impressive, this squatted hotel, a presence — a celebrity even — in the middle of austerity Greece.

For more information on City Plaza here is an article. And if you speak a little German, here’s a video, too.

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