The Refugees’ Shelter, situated at the Siatistis 12 & Filippou corner, had been for many years the only hosting facility for refugees in the city of Thessaloniki and was providing accommodation to 14 families (or approximately 70 people). In January 2010 the shelter was shut down by the NGO that was managing it on the grounds of financial difficulties (according to the NGO’s declaration). At that time, the Antiracist Initiative of Thessaloniki with the support of other collectives and concerned parties – such as unions, associations, municipal movements and political parties of the left – as well as with the active participation and support of hundreds of people, organised a common front in order to rescue the Refugees’ Shelter from closure. Our initial target was to keep the Shelter open and operational, by any means necessary, till a public entity could take over the financing and the operation of the facility since we believed – and still do so – that this should be a responsibility of the state.
Despite the difficulties that such a new project involved for us, the Refugees’ Shelter operated in an excellent way managed by the common assembly of refugees and solidarity people for more than a year. The practical needs were covered only by the Antiracist Initiative and the practical solidarity and material support of dozens of other people and collectives which offered voluntary work, financial support and in-kind donations. This way, we managed to cover all the needs of the residents of the shelter without any funding, since the Antiracist Initiative does not accept, in principle, any financial subsidies for its activities.
The most serious difficulty we faced was in the summer of 2010 when DEI stopped the provision of electricity – responsibility for the utility costs until that time rested with the NGO that left the Shelter’s management a few months earlier. Despite concerted efforts to re-connect the electricity (legally or not, and even with the use of a generator), it was not technically possible. On the other hand, Thermi City Council (who is the owner of the building), Thessaloniki City Council and other responsible public entities declined to provide any support. Thus at that point, the only way to keep the facility open was to bear the electricity costs on our own. To do so, we collectively decided in consultation with all parties involved in the project to start a new electricity account in the name of the not-for-profit legal entity «Social Centre of Thessaloniki» which we had established to support the formal operations of the Social Centre – Immigrants’ Place (space rental, utility bills etc.). It was obvious that this not-for-profit entity could not legally undertake responsibility for the utility costs of the Refugee Shelter as it did not have a legal relationship with the building hosting the shelter (no legal form of ownership, rental or concession). However, the new connection succeeded after our collective political intervention, always with the aim to keep the shelter functional and the residents living and surviving there. During that year of self-management (till 12/2010) we redeemed properly all expenses- including the electricity bill – by paying 2000€ as guarantee and 3.864€ for electricity consumption.
However, because during this time we were unable to find a relevant public entity willing to undertake the regular and permanent operation of the Refugee Shelter, the Antiracist Initiative was forced at the end of 2010 to pull out of the project as it couldn’t – and should not have to – bear the responsibility to cover the operational costs indefinitely. The Refugee Shelter continued to operate and host refugee families till November 2014 when, at the initiative of solidarity citizens, financial support and apartments were offered for the relocation of the remaining families. The Refugees’ Shelter has since been evacuated and locked down by the building’s owner.
During the period between the Antiracist Initiative’s withdrawal and the final closure of the Refugee Shelter, dozens of refugee families were accommodated and the 24 electricity connections recorded consumption corresponding to 80.000€. At Antiracist Initiative we were aware of the fact that these expenses were being charged to us but we could not request a disconnection as the building was still hosting refugees and children. In our view, the only solution would have been the re-establishing of the shelter as the responsibility of a public entity which would, reasonably, assume the debt, something that obviously never happened.
Continue reading: How did it all happen and what about now?