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The Earthquake Victims
by Yiannis Bardopoulos
Kathimerini, http://www.ekathimerini.com, March 2005
Life in a box: families continue to live in containers intended as temporary shelter.
The camps full of containers have gone from being temporary shelter for people made homeless by the September 1999 earthquake to being used as permanent accomodation by socially excluded groups in Ano Liosia, Menidi and other municipalities. According to the Earthquake Rehabilitation Service, there are 'about 72 [camps] in 23 municipalities,' but even the authorities are unable to give precise data.
"I believe the situation in the camps for earthquake victims in Attica is the definition of a ghetto. From the way they are laid out to their infrastructure, everything is temporary and has been made permanent, with all that entails." So said Paris Koukoulopoulos, president of KEDKE (the Central Union of Municipalities and Communities of Greece); harsh as they are, his words reflect reality.
The camps were set up in 1999-2000 in many Attica municipalities to house thousands of people made homeless by the September 1999 earthquake. Initially they were intended only for owners of houses that had been destroyed, but tenants were later permitted to use them as temporary accommodation. As time went by, departing owners and tenants were replaced by disadvantaged social groups (such as the poor, Gypsies and migrants) with the forbearance or (frequently, pre-election) encouragement of local mayors.
Typically, and worryingly, the Ministry of the Environment, Planning and Public Works (YPEHODE) does not have a full picture of the camps. Kathimerini contacted the Earthquake Rehabilitation Service and was told that there are "about 72 [camps] in 23 municipalities" but was not given any information about which particular municipalities they are in.
"In any case, in the five years after the earthquake, only 29 camps closed," said Koukoulopoulos. "According to our data, the 'around 72' [camps] have 4,461 containers. We're talking about at least 4,000 families," he explained. "It is obvious that people who live in the camps have nowhere else to stay. They are socially and economically disinherited, the majority of the people are unwanted. We must summon up our humanity and social sensitivity and put an end to this situation."
"At a time when even the notion of a care institution is being questioned, I consider it disastrous for so many people to be enclosed for such a long time in camps," said Sakellis. "The earthquake victims' camps are the ghettos of the poor. I can't accept that anyone who had an alternative solution would put their children into a container for five years. If there are such cases, they are a tiny minority. What is tragic is that people who live there have adapted to the wretched situation and find it difficult to move."
The total lack of initiative by the state or municipalities to find a solution reveals their inability to face the major social problem that has been created. "I am ashamed," said Sakellis. "This situation is beyond all reason."
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