Society

A Visit To The "Greek Guantanamo"

Greece has been repeatedly criticized for its treatment of undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers. One its harshest detention centers in the city of Corinth, south of Athens.

"They put barbed wire on their sun”
"They put barbed wire on their sun”
Alain Salles

CORINTH — Over the last three years, Greece has been condemned 11 separate times by the European Court of Human Rights for the conditions of undocumented immigrants detained by the state.

The latest case to make news was Aug. 10, as Greek police launched a manhunt in Athens to capture migrants who escaped from the nearby detention center of Amygdaleza after a riot broke out. The unrest erupted when the 1,200 prisoners were informed that their detention could now last up to 18 months, instead of 12.

At the camp here in the coastal city of Corinth, the detainees’ living quarters speak for themselves: Prisoners linger behind high fences topped with barbed wire. They chat, hail the odd visitor and the few social workers who try to take care of about 1,000 undocumented migrants piling up in this former military barrack, 80 kilometers southwest of Athens.

These migrants are often grouped depending on their national origin and housed in large buildings with dormitories shared by some 70 to 80 people. They are allowed two walks a day, every morning and every evening. Each building has two shower cabins, accessible for 90 minutes per day.

Clothes hang from the window bars. A pair of trousers is in shreds on the barbed wire. These men — Africans, Pakistanis, Afghans, Arabs — have been living here for several months, some since the beginning of August 2012, when the government launched operation “Zeus Xenios,” leading to the arrest of 80,000 people.

“This is a new Guantánamo,” one African says through the bars. “We’re being treated like criminals because we don't have documentation. We wouldn’t be worse off if we were in jail.”

Living conditions are extremely difficult in the camp, and the quarters are seriously over-crowded. “Some of the guys here with us are crazy, and there are no psychiatrists,” adds a man from Congo. “At night, we're scared.”

Another undocumented immigrant repeats several times, “As soon as I'm out of here, I'll go see a psychiatrist.”

An Algerian prisoner adds, “I've been in detention camps in France and in Italy, but this one here is the worst.”

A group of about 30 MAT officers (Greek riot police) go from building to building. Prisoners fear their interventions. They call them “robots.” One of the African inmates recounts a violent intervention that took place in the adjoining building after some of the prisoners had refused their meals and had started a hunger strike, as some had done in other camps in Greece. They are also scared of suicides. A man threw himself out of the window in April and was taken to the hospital. They have not heard of him since.

There are about 1,000 foreigners in this camp, and they can all taste the bitterness of Zeus Xenios’s hospitality. Tthe name chosen by the government for the raids on immigrants is also that of the patron of guests and hospitality. The United Nations, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights as well as several NGOs have spoken out against the way foreigners are treated. On July 9, Amnesty International’s Jezerca Tirani presented a report on how refugees were being mistreated at the Turkish border.

“When we visited the refugees in those cells, we could hardly believe we were still in Europe,” Tirani said.

Masks and barbed wire

P. has left the camp in Corinth. He was one of those arrested during the summer of 2012. He was transferred to a makeshift camp near the former airport of Elleniko, in conditions that he described as worse than those in Corinth.

“They came to arrest us at home one morning,” he recalls. “We were taken in custody. There were seven of us, and four stayed at the police station for five days before we were transferred to Elleniko.” P. says 60 people had to share one shower and one toilet, and the detainees were regularly insulted by police officers. “They would refuse to give us soap. They wouldn’t let us out. They were wearing surgical masks. But we had to live in there.”

P. says he was then transferred to another facility, where he was kept in a cell. He slept on a concrete bed, but it was clean and he was allowed to see a doctor and a social assistant.

He emerged as an official asylum seeker with a permit that was valid for six months. A law passed in 2011 that made it easier to grant asylum. Between 2007 and 2011, only 1,262 people obtained asylum in Greece although there were about 10,000 applications duringe each of those years. The repressive regime has become harsher still: An immigrant can be detained for a year if he is an asylum seeker, and up to 18 months if he is not.

Like others, P. tried to walk up the northern route, through the former Yugoslavia. He couldn’t cross the border, so he returned to Athens. But in the detention center in Corinth, word has spread.

“Some of our brothers succeeded,” says one African. “They now live in Austria or in Germany, and they have jobs.”

But one prisoner from Tunisia warns, “When I get out of here, the Greeks will get a taste of their own medicine. What they inflict on us is pure violence.”

An Algerian is less vengeful, and more poetic. “Greeks are stupid. They put barbed wire on their sun.”

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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat


CAUCHARI
— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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