Greek university halts classes to protest over drug use on its doorstep

A heroin addict, who didn't want to be identified, walks near the University of Athens Law School building in Athens, Greece, October 24, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

ATHENS (Reuters) – Classes were called off at Athens University of Economics and Business on Wednesday in a protest by staff about the increasing number of addicts injecting drugs at its entrance and in surrounding streets.

The university’s senate said conditions around its building in central Athens posed a safety risk to students and staff, calling on state authorities to ensure “the immediate and permanent removal of drug dealers and drug users from the university’s neighboring areas.”

It is a long-standing problem for universities in the Greek capital, including the Polytechnic and the Law School.\

Used syringes could be seen lying in undergrowth behind public benches around the Law School on Wednesday, and people said trees and bushes in parks were often used as cover by drug users.

“They don’t bother us but it’s disturbing to watch,” Dimitris Raptis, 18, a first-year law student, told Reuters as he walked past a group of addicts. “We once found a syringe on the street, a student almost stepped on it.”

Many students and university workers have become accustomed to the situation, which has been going on for years despite repeated attempts by police to move the drug addicts on.

“I’m used to it and it makes me sad. They are pricking themselves all day,” said 62-year old cleaner Stavroula.

It is not clear why users tend to congregate near university premises, but critics say academic asylum rules that ban police from entering universities unless their authorities permit it have aggravated the problem.

The rules were introduced in the 1980s, when the country had fresh memories of a 1967-1974 military junta. They were scrapped in 2011, two years after Greece’s worst riots in decades, on the argument that universities had become havens for criminals.

The leftist-led government reinstated them in 2017.

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