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The five ghettos of Athens reveal another side of country's capital
by Giorgos Lialios
Kathimerini, http://www.ekathimerini.com, April 2005
Various special circumstances have created each distinct pocket of poverty amid general prosperity.
There are no ghettos in Greece, at least not the sort you might find in the United States. Yet Athens has its own share of wretchedly poor neighborhoods that stand out amid their middle class surroundings.
Some are recent creations, such as the 70 or more camps constructed to provide emergency shelter following the 1999 earthquake. Five years on, those who have not managed to get on their feet are still living in some 4,500 containers, where hundreds of poor people and migrants have also found accomodation.
In other areas, special social circumstances have developed over the past decade. The large number of migrants in the Athens municipality's dilapidated neighborhoods reflects the lack of measures to integrate them into Greek society.
An economic recession in the shipbuilding zone gradually put a fifth of the population of Perama municipality out of work, most of them the heads of households who are now seeking any kind of work at all to make ends meet. Their children look on, disallusioned and angry, without any optimism or dreams for the future.
And then there are areas that fester: There is the longstanding problem of Omonia Square, where drug users and dealers from all over Attica gather.
Dangerous and depressing for local residents or passers-by, the area extends to Vathis Square, which most people simply dash through only when they have some urgent reason to be there. In the minds of most people, the Greek version of the ghetto is the shacks of Zephyri, in which thousands of Greek citizens of Gypsy origin still live in wretched conditions. Completely cut off socially from the rest of Athens, they seek ways of making a living on the sidelines - hawking, begging, even dealing in drugs.
The notion of the ghetto is directly bound up with social and economic exclusion. The common factor in most cases in this report is unemplyment. "Lack of work leads to poverty, and poverty to exclusion", Social Research Institute Director Ioannis Sakellis told Kathimerini. "The longer unemployment lasts, the worse the exclusion. And eventually, being excluded leads to being outcast."
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