The Refuge - 55 square meters

Nikos Pilos, Freelancer Photographer and Filmmaker, Greece
12 series
The Refuge 55 Square Meters - Prosfygika is Europe’s largest residential squat, run by one of the most active anarchist collectives in Greece. Prosfygika is a 1930s Bauhaus housing complex located in the heart of Athens. The complex consists of 8 blocks and 228 apartments with 55 square meters each. In these historic yet rundown buildings, which originally were built to house Greek refugees after WWI, more than 500 people from 30 different nationalities have found shelter here. Since 2010 and the beginning of the financial and refugee upheavals, Prosfygika has become the residential squat that is now considered to be Europe’s largest. Squatters, political activists, underprivileged Greeks, refugees, and marginalized people have formed a vibrant community that revived the neighborhood. Through solidarity and direct democracy, the community has managed to sustain its members with the essentials for their livelihoods: food, housing, communication, companionship and a place to live and fight for their rights. But as these people, already under difficult conditions, struggle to start a new life and rebuild their homes, the coronavirus pandemic arrived at their doorstep. The few who worked - part time and without any social safety net - lost their jobs and are now without any income, sitting cooped-up at home in fear of getting infected, totally relying on the community’s care. Face masks and antiseptics are expensive to buy and following the social distancing guidelines can be difficult since, in many cases, four people share a 55-square-meter apartment. For residents without any legal documents, it is now impossible to even venture outside since police are on every corner. From the first quarantine to the second the right-wing government, increasingly harsher repression measures have been enforced. Police brutality, patrols and fines under the pretext of some violation of the pandemic-fighting measures are everyday problems throughout the country. The community - which sorts out these day-to-day issues, such as electricity and water difficulties, baking bread, coordinating the distribution of food and medicine - and the buildings’ architectural structure, with its open spaces between the blocks and lots of windows, are the squatters’ only allies, since the healthcare system and the state don’t include them on their lists. “If coronavirus comes to the community, we will face a humanitarian disaster. But without the community nobody would be able to survive,” a political activist says. Having endured 10 years of financial and refugee crises, a new one arises now and the cry for a new solidarity movement needs to be heard.

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