The smell of urine and sweat, simmering in 90-degree heat, wafts through an open window like poisonous perfume. A half-full plastic water bottle balances on the ledge below a dirty mesh curtain tied in a knot. More than 20 illegal immigrants live behind the window, in the four-bedroom apartment on Filis street in central Athens, sleeping in shifts to share the beds. They pay what they can, and are forced to give up their bed when someone can pay more. “It’s better than the street,” says a man when asked what it’s like inside. A few blocks up, the doors are half-open with bare lightbulbs above them. When the light is on, it means the brothels inside are open. Women of all ethnicities and ages peer from the windows. This is not the Athens that tourists flock to. But it is home to roughly 1 million estimated illegal immigrants who live and work in the city.
Being an immigrant—illegal or not—has become a risky way of life in Athens. Since May 6, when Greeks gave voice to extremist neo-Nazi anti-immigration party Golden Dawn, attacks on immigrants have doubled. On May 31, an Albanian man standing on the street in Athens’s Neos Kosmos neighborhood was stabbed with a sword by a masked motorcycle driver. Paramedics had to remove several ribs to dislodge the sword, which pierced his chest and was left sticking out of his back.
The same night, 20 minutes later, two Polish men were stabbed with knives in the same part of town. The next day men from Bangladesh and Pakistan were stabbed in the city’s subway stations. “Things have gotten worse since the elections,” Reza Gholami, who heads an association for immigrants from Afghanistan, told Greek Kathimerini newspaper after the May 6 election. “There are daily beatings.”
On June 17, Greeks again voted Golden Dawn into Parliament. The group won 6.92 percent of the vote, which will give them 18 seats in Parliament despite a platform hinged on kicking all immigrants out of Greece and setting up landmines on the borders. Polls consistently showed that a strong segment of Greeks supported the measures, even when party spokesman Ilias Kasidiari threw a glass of water on one female opponent and punched another on national television. After the election results, party faithful gathered at Golden Dawn headquarters at Larissa station in Athens, shouting nationalist slogans. "Today's vote proves that the nationalist movement is here to stay," the party's leader, Nikolaos Mihaloliakos, said in his postelection speech on Sunday night with a statue of a Naziesque eagle on his desk. "Golden Dawn represents the Greece of the future."
Many Greeks resent the presence of so many illegal immigrants on the streets. Since 2011, when Italy and Malta tightened their borders, Greece has become the primary gateway for migrants coming to Europe from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Nearly 90 percent of all irregular immigrants now enter Europe through Greece, according to international border-guard agency Frontex. Last year 130,000 people entered the country illegally. A spike in crime has been blamed on the wave, and even climbing jobless rates can be tied to illegal workers who are more willing than regular Greeks to take untaxed jobs in the growing black market. In April Greek authorities built the Amygdaleza detention center that can house up to 1,000 detainees who will eventually be deported back to their countries of origin. The rest live on the streets of Athens and smaller cities near the coastlines, working on farms and fishing boats to eke out a living. “There is not enough to go around and when what little social services there are go to immigrants, people are angry,” Athens retiree George Schinnachoritis told The Daily Beast. “There is not enough to share.”
The week before the election, a group of thugs stormed the house belonging to a 28-year-old third-generation Egyptian fisherman near Piraeus, breaking his jaw and nose. Authorities say the man was a legal resident who paid taxes. His three children attended the nearby school, and his wife works in a local pharmacy. The next day, Golden Dawn candidate Ilias Panagiotaros promised supporters that the war to take back Greece from the outsiders has just begun. “If Golden Dawn gets into Parliament, we will carry out raids on hospitals and kindergartens, and we will throw immigrants and their children out in the streets so Greeks can take their place.”