Operation Zeus in August last year marked the start of an ugly reminder of a European past that we thought we had long buried. Nearly 60 years after the end of the Second European War, migrants were round up from the streets of Greece and shoved unceremoniously into internment camps. In May, women working in the sex industry were pulled from the streets, forcibly tested for HIV, publicly humiliated and imprisoned. In March, they rounded up drug users from the streets of Athens and put them too into camps. Last month in Thessaloniki they came for trans gender people.
On the 30th of May, the Greek authorities stepped up their cleansing of the streets of the undesirables. The daily checks of papers, papers, papers whenever someone non-white encounters a police officer sees numerous migrants hauled to police stations, and many imprisoned in one of the hellholes that pass for the detention camps of Greece. In April alone 10, 000 people were stopped in these checks, and there are currently 5, 000 languishing in the official camps with an unknown number in temporary facilities such as police cells and shipping containers. Last month Dendias announced a doubling of the capacity of these camps, although with no commitment to closing the alternative facilities.
Greek citizens, drugs users, homeless people and women working in the sex industry, have also been targeted under these sweeps where they are hauled to police stations, forcibly tested for HIV and in some cases imprisoned among with the migrants in the internment camps. As the graffiti is cleaned off the shop facades in anticipation of the summer tourist influx, the streets are being cleansed of undesirables.
On the 30th of May, a new group of undesirables was identified. Trans gender people. For the last week, daily raids have been taking place in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city. Under the pretense that of checking that the person is not involved in the sex industry trans people are being rounding up and arrested. Their details are taken and they are detained for several hours. On release they are warned that if they did not “return to normal” they would be arrested for public indecency.
This is not the first time that trans people have been targeted in Greece, in August last year, 25 trans women were arrested and force to undergo HIV testing and charged with prostitution offenses, in April, finally, the last of this group was acquitted. This is however a new and sustained campaign against trans people, some of whom were stopped driving their cars and accused of sexual impropriety.
In May, the official broadcast to publicise Athens Pride was banned as it included a lesbian kiss, while in Thessaloniki, the Metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Church described Pride as an “unholy and unnatural event”, urging citizens not to take their children and indicating that he would like to see the event shut down. At the end of last year gay men were repeated assaulted by member of the Golden Dawn, sometimes armed with knifes, in the wake of the violent and vicious rabble that saw the opening of the play “Corpus Christi” besieged by Nazis. One MP from the fascist Golden Dawn attacked a journalist, punching him in the face and screeching after him as he escaped “You run away you faggot, you ass-muncher“, while the police silently watched.
This new escalation follows a familiar pattern of harassment, false imprisonment, detention, and arrests. The experiences of migrants, drug users and women in the sex industry are all testimony to the deliberate targeting of marginalised groupings. The pink triangle isn’t just a cool emblem, but a reminder that we’ve seen it all before. We said never again – only it IS happening again….and one-by-one the people who may have spoken up disappear.