'Asphyxiating for a breath of freedom': Wave of Hunger Strikes in Greece

Nikos Romanos at the hospital window

A number of hunger strikes are ongoing with imprisoned anarchist Nikos Romanos in his third week of action.

A series of hunger strikes, in the prisons, detention centres and on the streets, are reaching critical stages. Anarchist Nikos Romanos, joined and supported by others, has been on continuous hunger strike for nearly three weeks. Whilst outside the Greek parliament a number of Syrian refugees are also staging their own strike against the torturous process of gaining asylum in Greece.

Nikos Romanos, who in October was imprisoned for 15 years due to participation in the Velventos bank robbery, has been on hunger strike since 10th November. As a young prisoner he wished to make use of the right to educational furloughs after being accepted into a university. This request was denied by the prison authorities. So to was the request of Hrakli Kostari, imprisoned for a number of years for participation in the group November 17th, who had being using the educational furloughs to study for sometime already.

Both were told that their furloughs were cancelled and they would no longer have access to education. Hrakli Kostari begun his strike on October 28th and continued for more than thirty days until he decided he must stop due to a deteriorating health condition and the persistent refusal of the authorities to restore the furloughs. Nikos Romanos stated in his announcement:

'Last spring, I sat university entrance exams from inside the prison and got admitted to a faculty in Athens. According to their laws, since September 2014, I am eligible for educational furloughs to regularly attend classes from the beginning of the term.

As expected, my requests have fallen on deaf ears, something that makes me claim these prison furloughs using my body as a barricade.'

Despite having been moved to a guarded hospital due to his worsening health after two weeks, Romanos continues his strike. Frequent doctor's statements note significant weight loss and an increasingly precarious state of health as time goes on. On November 17th, anarchist Yannis Michailidis joined the hunger strike and has since been hospitalized. Solidarity actions ranging from hunger strikes by other imprisoned comrades to demonstrations, arsons and attacks have been ongoing since the beginning of the strike both in Greece and internationally.

Meanwhile a group of several hundred Syrian refugees have been permanently protesting outside the Greek parliament. As temperatures plunged last week with winter taking hold the Syrian refugees continued to protest and several dozen began a hunger strike on the 24th November demanding either that they are given papers to stay or are allowed to leave. Since the strike began at least nine people have collapsed and needed treatment. Their statement reads:

'We escaped from death in Syria. We escaped from death passing the Aegean sea. We want to live with dignity in Europe.'

Greece has one of the worst records for granting asylum in the EU with a very low percentage of requests being processed in any reasonable time. Such is the bizarre nature of the EU immigration bureaucracy that refugees are frequently prevented from leaving Greece but not given permission to legally stay either. This can leave people stuck in a country which has a policy of rounding up 'illegal' foreigners and detaining them in overcrowded police stations or in a number of newly built camps.

Within these detention camps hunger strikes have also taken place. The Amygdaleza camp on the outskirts of Athens saw a large hunger strike begin on November 17th after the recent deaths of two inmates and the detention of others for more than the 18 month limit. A separate hunger strike has begun in the Paranesti detention centre in northern Greece.

The government has frequently ignored hunger strikes in the recent past. They took little notice when thousands went on hunger strike against the creation of new high security prisons a few months ago and generally view migrants and refugees as a problem rather than as people. Though little can be expected from the government, the Syrians on the street, the migrants in the detention centres and Nikos Romanos and the imprisoned comrades continue to fight with great determination for basic dignities with their very bodies.