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World View: Decaying Stadiums from 2004 Athens Olympics Have New Lives Housing Migrants

Former Olympic Stadiums Are Being Used To Offer Temporary Shelter To Migrants
Milos Bicanski/Getty Images

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Decaying stadiums from 2004 Athens Olympics have new lives housing migrants
  • Greece transports migrants from Macedonian border back to Athens
  • Migrants blocked from Macedonia face difficult choices

Decaying stadiums from 2004 Athens Olympics have new lives housing migrants

2014 photo of the abandoned stadium that hosted the hockey competition during the Athens 2004 Olympic Games (Reuters)
2014 photo of the abandoned stadium that hosted the hockey competition during the Athens 2004 Olympic Games (Reuters)

On Wednesday morning, Greece used 45 buses to transport 2,400 migrants from the Macedonia border back to Athens, dropping the migrants off in front of the Taekwondo stadium, one of the decaying relics left over from the ill-fated 2004 Athens Summer Olympics. The Taekwondo stadium is reportedly nearing maximum capacity and other asylum seekers are being taken to other stadiums or to Ellinikon, the former Athens airport.

Athens has been scrambling to find shelter for migrants, and began using old Olympics stadiums in October. The stadiums are ideal solutions, because they are athletic venues, so they have such things as toilets and showers.

Many people blame cost overruns and delays of the $10 billion Athens 2004 Olympics as major contributors to Greece’s debt crisis in the last few years. Once the games ended, there was no money left for investment and development, so the stadiums have been overrun with weeds.

The migrant crisis has given new life to the stadiums. According to Manos Eleftheriou, deputy mayor of Galatsi, “They move on every couple of days. Here we give them food, medical care, clothing. We provide theater, music, Spanish food, country music. We’re trying to show them the diversity of the Europe they are going to.” Kathimerini and CityLab (11-Aug-2014) and LA Times (12-Nov)

Greece transports migrants from Macedonian border back to Athens

Greek police have removed about 2,400 migrants stuck on the border with Macedonia, and has transported them by bus back to Athens, housing them in the decaying stadiums left over from the 2004 Summer Olympics.

In months past, migrants would travel from Turkey to Greece to Macedonia for the trip north, hoping to reach the imagined Nirvana of Germany or Sweden. According to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), nearly 770,000 migrants have entered Greece so far this year — 58% men, 26% children, 16% women. About 3,500 have drowned this year.

The flow has been slowing down as winter approaches, but only slightly. An average of 3,800 per day arrived so far in December, compared to 4,560 per day in November.

Almost all of them arrived first by paying a human smuggler to transport them from Turkey, across the Aegean Sea, to one of Greece’s islands. This trip is fraught with danger. A major international news story on Thursday is about a man who lost his wife and seven children because the human smuggler lied and put all of them on a boat that could not survive the Aegean Sea.

Once the migrants reach the Greek islands, Greece has been ferrying them to the continent, and from there they have been making their way to the Macedonian border.

Much of Europe has been overwhelmed by the massive flow of migrants. Many people blame Time Magazine Woman of the Year German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the size of the flow, because of her remarks months ago that migrants would be welcome in Germany.

Overwhelmed countries have been reacting by erecting razor-wire fences and imposing border controls, making the trip north harder and harder for migrants.

Macedonia has now erected its own fence and border controls to allow only migrants from war-torn Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan to pass through. Thousands of others are being designated “economic migrants,” and they have been stuck on the border for weeks. Greece has been transporting them back to Athens. However, they’re not being imprisoned in Athens, and they are free to leave. AFP and Washington Post and AFP

Migrants blocked from Macedonia face difficult choices

The migrants being transported back to Athens are from countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran, Morocco, Somalia, Eritrea and Algeria. Since these countries are not a war, Macedonia considers their citizens to be economic migrants, not refugees.

While the migrants transported back to Athens are not being imprisoned, they face difficult choices. They have several options:

  • They can apply for asylum in Greece, but Greece’s asylum system is overwhelmed and dysfunctional.
  • Unsuccessful asylum claims can result in deportation to country of origin. Last week, Greek authorities tried to deport a planeload of Pakistani migrants to Islamabad, but had to fly them back to Athens after Pakistani authorities refused to accept them in a row over a readmission agreement.
  • They can opt for voluntary repatriation — voluntarily returning to their home countries — with the assistance of the International Organization for Migration.
  • The most popular option is to hire new human smugglers and arrange transport north through Bulgaria or the Balkans. In August, 71 refugees were found asphyxiated in the back of a smuggler’s truck abandoned on the side of a motorway in Austria.

IRIN (United Nations)

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Macedonia, Greece, Athens, Taekwondo stadium, Ellinikon, Manos Eleftheriou, Galatsi, Germany, Angela Merkel, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran, Morocco, Somalia, Eritrea, Algeria, Bulgaria, Balkans
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