Athens. Athens. Athens. What a city! I’m here in the Late June/July heat of weather that reminds me of Niger and Nigeria. It’s 40° and I must say this is without doubt the hottest European city i’ve ever been to. Clean metros, electric cable trams, sunny weather and a great night-life scene make this mellow-chillax-and historical city incredibly popular with tourists, migrants and even destination weddings.
The number of beggars on the city metro (M2 and M3 respectively), Entrepreneurial Bangladeshi shops and religious Eritrean and North African communities caught my eye along with Policemen that with short sleeved vest like shirts (I don’t blame them).
There’s another side to Athens though; and that’s the community mix of African, Arab, Filipino, Eritrean and Bangladeshi migrants, UN Humanitarian granted Syrian Refugees and Tourists. It feels like a very well balanced and mixed city. Furthermore, quite a few American tourists ventured through the Oscar Hotel (Not a sensational hotel but very reasonable for the price you pay) where I was based. If you walk heading to the acropolis you’ll have to cross the Athens junkyard of thieves and drug-dealers (as the actual receptionist told us), but fear not, it’s very quiet. Avoid the salty croissants option at breakfast. Otherwise it is well.
Ethnic Demographic of African Migrants in Athens:
Back to the flow. Africans in Athens. You have the North African and sub-saharan divide. I have been very cheeky and not included included any statistics in this particular post. I’m going partially on what I saw venturing under the sun through various streets Larissa, Omonia, Victoria, Katachaki and Parepistimio and more, conversations I had with strangers asking about the ‘African Community in general’ and the handful of community groups you see on Facebook. The latter goes something like this: Somalians represent (in my opinion) the second largest East African Refugee Community in Athens behind Eritreans and Ethiopians.
The Igbo (predominantly) and some Yoruba speaking Nigerians outnumber (ever so slightly) the Congolese but I would say French speaking West Africans (inclusive of those from Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Guinea, Senegal et plus) make it a balanced affair with the pendulum swinging to the former – no surprises there. I met (and spoke with) French speaking Africans more than I thought I would; and even surprised to walk past a rather loud ‘happy clappy’ Eritrean church (singing Tigrinya praises). I also saw ‘Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries‘ local branch near Panepistimio Square. Congolese French speaking gatherings are also common. This is confirmed by the recent UNHCR Data Refugees/Migrants Emergency Response statistics last year. There is also a small community of Zambians and Angolans in wider Greece.
However Egyptian, Algerian, Tunisian, Moroccan represent the larger of the two communities (between Sub-Saharan and North African). Cafes, Local restaurants and stalls are littered across the central suburbs whether you’re in Irini or Evangelismos; the rather colourful and pleasantly ‘noisy at night’ Arabs are seen throughout.
“I’ve been here 26 years. Greeks are racists, full stop. I’ve seen lots of examples, from kids going “ching-chong-ching-chong” to a Korean on a bus, to spectators in sporting events imitating monkeys whilst they mock black players. But it’s not because Greeks are bad people. It’s a matter of education. When I came here Greece was mostly mono-cultural. Now there are a lot of refugees here. They need to learn to be more tolerant of people of color, especially. I’m sure that will happen as time goes by.” (Wemedge, Greek Reporter)
Coffee Conversation with H. Abdullah (Egyptian-Greek) Migrant:
Differences amongst Arab speaking communities: Tunisians, Algerians and Moroccans are different from Egyptians, Syrians and Iraqi. The latter three communities (here in Athens) are a lot more family focussed and content than the former. Due to colonial influences of French and British military regimes in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco in the past; violence has been instilled and is passed down. This is reflected in many (but not all) of the Tunisians and Algerians here (in Athens) in particularly the men. Free Greek Language Courses exist; but many African refugees and immigrants pick up Greek on the streets. Due to the fact Syrians and Iraqi have their children nationalised (and first priority to citizenship) ahead of other African and Asian immigrants (due to their status of UN Humanitarian Refugees) since they are not arriving on the island of Lesbos and/or the country’s northern borders from the war in Syria; now in it’s Sixth Year. This causes tension.
Social Dilemmas of Preferential Treatment in NGO Aid groups: Afghan, Iraqis and Syrians appear (in the eyes of others) to get everything. African Migrants get nothing. As a result, many Aid organisations and volunteer projects work closely and directly and at times even solely with Syrian, Iraqi and Afghani individuals. On the other hand, Doctors without Borders have been of good help to these Syrians along with many other organisations and local churches. One of the reasons why Egyptians and many Africans change their name is to accepted upon arrival.
Racism, Identity and other things:
There isn’t much to say on racism in Greece. It is present and certainly exists. The influx of the many 120,000+ immigrants into Greece since 2014 has meant security and patrol measures against non-Greek looking migrants have increased. And many times; black and/or African-American tourists can be harrassed and even locked up by authorities if you’re without ID (make sure you take your passport or photocopy of passport with you at all times). Video Footage of an incredible incident showing clear and open xenophobic and racist security harassing an African man on the train was recorded by a fellow young woman went viral on Greece on YouTube sparking debate and proving why the guys in the above photo need to exist to fight for their rights. Nothing happened or has happened to me so far though.
Stay Tuned for Part II.