Institutional housing policies and habitation practices of the refugees arriving in Volos, Greece, in 1922
– Antonis Antoniou


The historical starting point of this paper lies with the Asia Minor refugees arriving in Volos, Greece in 1922, to eventually settle in a barren and flat piece of land named Xerokampos. First, a description is made of the conditions prevailing in the initial places of their mass housing. The main point under investigation is the habitation practices devised by the refugees excluded from “normal” housing; these experiences of habitation are intertwined with official housing policies, pursued by a string of different institutions. In order to delve into this context, the official housing policies are interpreted in correlation with the strategies developed by the refugees trying to cope with these exceptional circumstances, either legally or not, as in the case of squatting endeavours. The paper concludes with examining the debt imposed on the refugees as a precondition in order to gain full property of their houses.

The main aim of the present paper is to provide an insight into the Asia Minor refugees who arrived in Volos in 1922, particularly regarding their habitation condition. Τhe experiences of habitation are intertwined with housing policies, pursued by a string of institutions: The Committee for the Rehabilitation of the Refugees, the government and the appropriate ministries, the local authorities and the police.

What is under investigation is the habitation practices devised by the refugees, who were excluded from “normal” housing1; how people were able to organize their dwellings and their modes of housing and survival in an alternative fashion, beyond “normality”. In this light, the notions of “housing” and “habitation” are deemed to be a useful interpretation tool, a key to indicating new prospects in historiography.

Urban habitation in times of crisis could also be viewed from a different standpoint, as to what extent it is in accordance with or contradicts the official/ institutional schemes, provisions and regulations. That is to say, to what extent the practices of the actors reproduce, confirm or question and transform the legal procedures defining and monitoring construction and habitation; in what ways and how greatly the needs of people may comply with, substitute or be adverse to “normality” terms.

Looking into specific habitation practices we can find a key to understanding aspects of the political conduct of subordinate groups, in particular of the refugees that came to Volos after they were expelled from their homeland in 1922 (Scott 1990, p. 17).

The original material explored is drawn from newspapers of the time as well as from oral accounts of second- or third-generation refugees. As Alessandro Portelli has stressed, written and oral sources do not contradict each other. They have both common and different characteristics, as well as specific functions that only either one can serve. However, an important distinct feature of oral history is that it provides the means to bring to light not only past events but also the meanings attributed to them. In this respect, interviews may reveal invisible aspects of the daily life and cultural practices of nonhegemonic groups, as in the case of Asia Minor refugees (Portelli 2003, pp. 64, 67).
The “temporary” housing of the refugees arriving in Volos in 1922

In September 1922, following the destruction of Smyrna in the same year, a major wave of refugees came to the city of Volos. The crowds were initially housed in camp settlements, in tobacco warehouses, in schools and wooden shanties (Konstantaras-Statharas 1994, p. 14). In many cases, the initial improvised settlement turned into a “temporary residence” which, in turn, became a permanent housing condition for many years (Gizeli 1984, pp. 127, 144, 260-261).

One of the initial places of their mass housing were the tobacco warehouses. There, in those common spaces for every man or woman, people of all ages, from toddlers to elderly, had to coexist. The newly arrived refugees lived crammed in there, so, in their attempt to create certain elementary privacy terms, they formed makeshift rooms separating the common space with any means they had at their disposal, namely with blankets and huge cloth bags. As it is apparent from the oral testimonies, this attempt of demarcation of a private space was encountered not only in the tobacco warehouses but also in all other places, wherever a large number of refugees was housed2. The account given by Petros Palamidas, with regard to what it was like to be housed in the tobacco warehouses, is characteristic: In the premises, there was constant tension, even at night; “Near daybreak, a weird quietness would fall, only for a little while, as the day was dawning and they could finally get out of their graves and breathe” (Konstantaras-Statharas 1993, pp. 37-38). Apart from serving as housing, the tobacco warehouse was the starting point for organizing the lives of the refugees. Division of labour was indispensable too. Those who were capable of finding some sort of work to make ends meet, whether it was men, women or children, would go to the city in search of work. Those who were left behind were the women charged with “the housework chores” (cleaning, cooking etc). The tobacco warehouse was now their home.

In order to grapple with the major issue of housing the refugees, the option of requisition was advocated. In the beginning, void buildings were requisitioned, soon after followed by the requisition of other places which were deemed to be suitable for the provisional housing of the refugees (Gizeli 1997, p. 73; Paloukis 2011, p. 91). According to a report in the municipal council, three out of four warehouses of the city had been under requisition by June 1923 (Kontaxi 2004, p. 180).

These initial forms of housing were perceived by the refugees themselves as provisional. The thought that this was only “provisional” made that new predicament easier to bear. This perception of provisional residence and provisional life in the new setting served as a mechanism enabling the refugees to keep the dream alive, of return and restoration of their prior status in their homelands (Gizeli 1984, p. 128).

Yet, in a different perspective, the requisition of houses would pose “existential” questions concerning the notion of private property and the removal of its private character3. From the first days of their arrival in Volos, the refugees began to get housed in privately owned houses of the local residents, based on adequacy of the room available. As it is reported by the newspaper I Thessalia, “over the process of distribution, special care is taken so that the placing is realised taking into account the social status of the installed”4. Given the vast number of the refugees, temporary housing, among other facilities and premises, in privately owned houses was a rational and necessary option, still it shook the “sacred foundations” of private property (Kontaxi 2004, p. 169; Gizeli 1984, p. 129).

However, the requisition, especially as provisional residence was extended, met with escalating objections. Although the requisition framework did not essentially question the right to private property, since the use of the property would be converted only provisionally, many owners of houses accommodating refugees perceived this as an intrusion into their privacy, while occasionally this led to even more serious complications (Gizeli 1984, pp. 130-132; Gizeli 1997, pp. 79-81)5. Similar disapproval and discontent were expressed because of the refugees staying in some of the city’s schools. The comment published in the newspaper Tahidromos on 14.3.1923 is typical: “The fact that the two schools adjacent to Agios Konstantinos church are preserved for the children’s shelter and the girls coming from Pontos is considered to be out of place […]. But here for no earthly reason, it seems preferable that the education be disrupted rather than disturb anybody else”6.

Nevertheless, contrary to the dominant practices and ethics, on the micro level of individual behavior one also comes across people who willingly conceded their homes or property to accommodate the refugees at the time7. Dimitris Konstantaras- Statharas recalls that his family stayed over two years in a house, without the owner ever demanding any sort of rent. Moreover, in his testimony, he adds that the neighbours came to offer their assistance and provide them with the immediate necessities for their survival8.
From Xerokampos to Nea Ionia

Most of the refugees arriving in Volos in 1922 were eventually to settle in Xerokampos location, in a barren and flat piece of land designating a “territory beyond”, quoting an expression borrowed from Εdward Said (Said 1994, p. 54), an “imaginary geography” of distinction between the space belonging to the locals and the space preserved for the refugees (Kontaxi 2004, p. 170; Konstantaras-Statharas 1994, p. 22).

The creation of Nea Ionia was realised outside the city of Volos, the stream of Krafsidonas being both a geographic and a symbolic boundary between the two worlds, i.e. Nea Ionia and Volos, the refugees and the locals (Karastergiou 2016, p. 116). The refugee settlement was, just like others of its kind in Greece, spatially entrenched for political and social reasons. As Lila Leontidou points out, the geographic segregation of the refugees was not accidental. On the contrary, it was premeditated and deliberately planned by the policy makers, the state and the Committee of Rehabilitation for the Refugees (Leontidou 2001, p. 209).

Placing the refugees in the settlement exacerbated and furthered their distinctive mark in relation with the rest of the local urban inhabitants, thereby enforcing stigma (Stavrides et al. 2009, p. 30). With regard to dissimilarity representations concerning the refugees, it is notable that for many years after the creation of Nea Ionia the place where the refugees lived was referred to—both in the written and oral discourse—not by the name “Nea Ionia” but merely as “the settlement” (Konstantaras-Statharas 1994, p. 107).

As it can be inferred from the oral witnesses that there were, in parallel with the mass housing scheme in Nea Ionia, also those refugees who chose not to be transferred there. In her account, Paraskevi Kotzageorgiou mentions her mother’s refusal to get a refugee house: “My mum didn’t get one. She didn’t want to get in. When she saw that squeeze of people quarreling, not having anywhere to dispose of their waste, disturbing one another, having nowhere to put up a washing line”9. As Stavroula Galanaki- Karagianni says, her grandfather didn’t want to be “ghettoized” in Nea Ionia. He wanted to stay with his family in Volos, not with the rest of the refugees under appalling living conditions. With the amount of liras he had brought with him, he bought a lot and, along with his brothers, he built a house in the area of the Seven Platani. Even though this area is situated very close to Nea Ionia, the option of housing outside the settlement was a way of symbolically distancing oneself from it. Of course this option was viable in this case, thanks to the prior economic capacity of the refugee—that is to say, the liras he had brought along with him10.

1. Refugee house in Nea Ionia. Source: Municipal Center for Historical Research and Documentation of Volos.

2. Refugee house in Nea Ionia. Source: Cultural Center of Asia Minor refugees “Iones”

Housing policies and habitation formations

Via the policy of housing refugees in dwellings, the Greek State attempted to accomplish specific political goals. Its main target was the integration of the crowds coming to Greece in droves, so as to keep potential clashes at bay. Tackling the housing of the refugees successfully was expected to be conducive to the maintenance of social order. Habitation in privately owned dwellings needed to be implemented to house refugees and serve as a vehicle for containing radical tendencies. Not only did the refugees have to be transformed into owners of the dwellings but also, apart from the legal framework of property, they needed to forge an owner’s identity. Housing policies, particularly forging a bond between the refugees and their dwellings, was emerging as a prerequisite of primary importance for “regular” social reproduction (Stavrides et al. 2009, p. 201).

Of course, the expectation of acquiring a privately-owned dwelling helped the refugees feel more secure about their new lives in Greece. In other words, the policy of transforming the refugees into petit-bourgeoisie through dwellings, which aimed at debilitating them politically, was in tune with their own psychological needs. (Stavrides et al. 2009, p. 31).

Seeking a permanent residence was a basic priority in life. It was a significant target, the accomplishment of which would lay the basis for a more optimistic outlook on the future. Obtaining a dwelling was an attempt to overcome the feeling of insecurity brought on by not having one. The assertion of residence was an expression of the wish to obtain a familiar setting within which the refugees would be able to renegotiate the hostile outer reality. By finding a home, what was “alien” and “unfamiliar” would gradually become familiar (Lang 1985, p. 202).

Dimitris Konstantaras-Statharas comments on how the news of beginning the works of construction of the houses was received in the settlement: “So, it’s true! The works have begun! In the warehouses, in the tents, at schools and in any kind of refugee settlements the foundations for hopes are being laid, dreams are being constructed, prospects for a decent, human life are being created” (Konstantaras-Statharas 1994, p. 33). His description of his family looking for a dwelling upon completion of the first houses in Nea Ionia is enlightening: “The swarm of relatives following Mr. George were searching in the first ‘square’ houses for a room. This soon turned out to be a let-down, as they were occupied already. They entered one, but an old woman had already ‘reserved’ it for herself. With obvious anguish exhibited on their faces, they rushed to the houses further away. They eventually found an open door carrying the number: square IX, room 60. They dashed inside, dropped their packs and sat down on the earthen floor to rest a bit. The father could not run – he arrived after a little while, out of breath, sweaty, exhausted, suffering from a coughing fit. He came in the house, shut the small, wooden door behind him, leaned his back against it, let out a deep sigh, made the sign of the cross and said with a trembling voice: Thank God. I’m free, I’m glad and happy. We will live here, we’ll put down roots, we’ll rise from the dead” (Konstantaras-Statharas 1993, p. 45).

On certain occasions, claiming a dwelling tended to resemble a symbolic war. Before the construction of the first houses had been completed in Nea Ionia, the refugees would try to outrun one another in order to stake out their claim to a room for themselves or their families: “Suddenly, through the opened door loomed the figure of an old woman, who gestured and squealed and whinged and yawped with a Pontic accent:

    – How did you get in here? This is mine!
    – My lady, retorted Mr George, it was empty when we got in. How can you claim it’s yours?
    – And it wasn’t empty, insisted the old woman. Can’t you see over there, in the corner? This stuff is mine.

    The family turn with curiosity to see what kind of stuff it is that’s hers in the corner, but still don’t see a thing. Yet the old woman insists

    – There, that’s mine.
    – Oh misery!

What was ‘hers’ was a piece of ‘poop’, which served as evidence she was the first to enter the room and had thus put her mark as an ‘ownership certificate’ [….]” (Konstantaras-Statharas 1993, pp. 47-48; Katsirelos 1994, p. 24). Likewise, Aliki Sotiriou describes how the refugees would enter these first houses in the settlement and acquire the ownership of the premises by placing any kind of everyday object, for instance a broom or a dustpan11.

In any case, the refugees’ urgent need for housing could not wait for the official schedule of domicile delivery. Therefore, while the first houses were under construction, some refugees chose to seize and occupy the houses—whether completed or not, it made no difference.

It should be noted that the case of Nea Ionia was not an exception, as the practice of squatting refugee dwellings had also appeared in other areas besides Volos. In fact, some of these dwellings would be occupied even after they had been officially granted by contract to other refugees who had assumed the responsibility to pay off their value12. The squats demonstrate that the policies related to housing the refugees were not implemented exclusively “from above”. On the contrary, they also triggered and motivated action “from below”, from the people who, urged by necessity, organized their action. The squatting endeavours had a common cause, that being the immediate quest for dwelling for free. However, not only the nature but also the final outcome of each endeavour varied from case to case.

The refugee squats emerged as a political issue of the time. At the end of 1924 the newspaper Rizospastis advocated the concession of the Halls and other conspicuous buildings in Athens and other big cities to the homeless refugees. The idea that the refugees should invade and occupy them was also embraced13. In this light, the process of squatting acquired class features, since the impoverished refugees were encouraged to seize and occupy the iconic edifices of the elite and fulfill their housing needs there. Taking a step further, the militant mobilization of the refugees was perceived as a prelude to a future insurrection. Hence, the squat turned into a “miniature” representation of the revolution, an act of enhancing the dynamics and the prospects of an upsurge in the future: “Good fortune. A few days ago it was in Thessaloniki. The day before yesterday, in Piraeus. Yesterday, in Chalkida, the refugees showed they are not a flock of sheep. They acted with team spirit and by collective force they occupied the state buildings. Even the city hall. That’s a good sign. These first awakenings of the refugees herald their great insurrection. We believe so and we hope so”14.

In the settlement under construction in Nea Ionia, “no sooner had the craftsmen placed tiles on the roof above a group of rooms than those were occupied by the refugees who lived crammed in the warehouses. The people wouldn’t wait for inauguration ceremonies, speeches and etiquette” (Konstantaras-Statharas 1993, p. 45). As it can be inferred from the extract above, the official housing planning was counteracted by the practices of the refugees themselves, who occupied the premises while still under construction, thus imposing the directness of their housing needs over the formal procedure. The squat resulted from the refugees’ choice to go beyond the limits of lawful behavior, so as to assert decent lives and confront the insecurity they experienced (Leontidou 1990, pp. 83, 84). The temporality of the official process of construction and distribution of the houses was subject to constant adjustment, since the squat set a new starting point of “illicit” habitation. The building, its time of construction, who would determine its concession and how, all that was the subject of intentional conflict. Through squats, the spatial dimension of resistance to domination was revealed (Sharp et al. 2005, pp. 1-3).

The Committee for the Rehabilitation of the Refugees reacted to the squats in Nea Ionia by ordering the discontinuance of the pending works (which concerned basic infrastructures of the settlement) and requesting the evacuation of the houses by the local authorities. Yet, the president of the local department of the Committee, Christos Loulis, refused to order the discontinuation of the works, pursuing a compromise15. The various poles of power defining and moulding the housing policies for the refugees did not make up a uniform block. On the contrary, the dominant political choices would be infiltrated and shaped in different contexts, encompassing the Committee for the Rehabilitation of the Refugees, the Greek State, the local authorities, the police and the refugees themselves in a constant process of negotiation and renegotiation.
The normalization of the housing process and the notions of habitation

Most of the refugees, living in conditions of marginalization and vulnerability, were forced to follow the central housing political choices. In spite of the squats mentioned above, the distribution of dwellings was carried out over the following years in accordance with the regulations, by contracts regulating the purchase of the dwellings and the paying off in installments (Konstantaras-Statharas 2008, p. 73; Konstantaras-Statharas 1994, pp. 78, 140). That was an undertaking aiming at the normalization of the refugee housing. After all, a small and poor quality house was a better solution at that moment than staying at a school or tobacco warehouse. The notion of “meeting one’s basic needs” is a historical product, defined and perceived in relation with the value and symbolic load of a given era (Rapoport 1969, p. 60). The desire and search for a dwelling are subjective experiences registered in diverse contexts (King 2004, p. 20). As a result, the acquisition of a dwelling, no matter how small or improvised it might be, seemed at that moment to be a step forward, a significant potential with multiple benefits.

From a different perspective, even within the dominant institutional context defining housing, the refugee dwelling remained a place of formation and expression of subjectivity. The dwelling was a melting pot mingling the perceptions and attitude towards dwelling and habitation carried by the refugees from Asia Minor and the limitations posed by the state housing policies (Stavrides et al. 2009, p. 65; King 2004, p. 19). The process of habitation itself generated new notions, by transforming the physical structure of the dwelling into a home. New notions in the new home were also developed by the material objects, which carried a sense of homeland. Nostalgia for the past before 1922 was central to this constantly evolving relation between space and identity, but through its registration and transcription into the new condition of life and habitation. Living there rendered the past and the present indistinguishable through materiality, memory and physical presence of the individuals. The formation of the dwelling space was simultaneously a process of formation and performance of refugee identity.

The smart and taken care of image of the house was the vehicle for the outward presentation of the refugee self in a positive light (Macgregor Wise 2000, pp. 299, 305; Jones 2009, p. 269). The following account from Nea Ionia is typical: “the refugees showed they were homemakers in their houses. They planted a flower in a pot, the housewives crocheted curtains. The housewife from Smyrna was outstanding, even the poorest among them would transform her shack into a palace with her cleanliness […]” (Kontaxi 2004, p. 179)16. The refugees familiarized themselves with and made use of the dwelling space, in an attempt to feel at home again. The refugee dwellings were places where “particularities emerged among similarities”, constituting a dynamic field of formation of the relation between the user and his/ her place. (Vrihea 1997, p. 139; Stavrides et al. 2009, p. 65; Macgregor Wise 2000, p. 306). In his testimony about the laundry places, Nikolaos Spanakis informs us: “[in the yard] we placed the cauldron outside, she filled it with water, she heated the water, she did the laundry, she washed our hair and bathed us out here in a washtub, she shook off the dirt and water and took care of us as if she were our mother. Back then we went to the mountain and bring firewood to make a fire in the fireplace and she did the washing up and bathed us. Outdoors, in this place, she also cooked”17.

Many of the everyday activities took place outside of the small rooms, in the neighborhood, on the pavement and in squares (Stavrides et al. 2009, pp. 65, 72). Meeting functional needs in the common spaces was inextricably intertwined with everyday life, desires and subjectivity. Beyond the privacy of each dwelling, forms of collective habitation were developed in common spaces where the interaction among individuals took place and flourished (King 2004, p. 23). Aliki Sotiriou mentions: “In the squares there were laundries and toilets. The laundries were huge—just like this one all in one. And there were launderers on both sides and in the middle a cauldron on a fire. That was the place where women did the washing up. And we would go there and play. It was nice, they would make swings to swing the babies and things like that”18.
Conclusive housing and permanency of refugee debts

According to the process provided by law, those eligible for a dwelling needed to pay a deposit in order to acquire a housing license or a provisional concession document from the Ministry of Social Welfare. They would attain the conclusive concession document only after paying off all the installments (Stavrides et al. 2009, p. 32; Gizeli 1984, p. 218). It is notable that there was not a single price for the dwellings in Nea Ionia; the prices ranged based on the time of construction and the quality of the houses. The initial “square” houses consisting of one room only were cheaper, whereas subsequent, more spacious and better-quality constructions differed in terms of cost. Selling the refugee dwelling at varying prices was based on the condition that the refugees had varying purchasing power. Therefore, this diversity in the buying capacity among the refugees would be reflected in the capacity of buying a better house (Konstantaras-Statharas 1994, p. 155; Konstantaras-Statharas 2003, pp. 23-24; Gizeli 1984, p. 220).

The obligation imposed to the refugees to buy their new homes initially triggered their reaction. They reacted to being subjected to the condition of debtor in a negative way. Having lost their fortunes in their homeland, they now had to pay all along for their housing (Stavrides et al. 2009, p. 33). In a memorandum to the Government in June 1925, the Executive Committee of the Cooperating Association of the Refugee Settlements mentioned that the fortunes abandoned back in their homeland actually rendered the refugees not debtors but creditors of the Greek State. With this statement, the refugees aimed at shaking off the obligation of paying off any debts; on the contrary, they presented themselves as creditors of their aspiring creditors. Through these economic assertions, they voiced a discourse boosting their self-image at a time when they themselves were the object of social discrimination and cultural disdain (Exertzoglou 2015, p. 233; Gizeli 1984, p. 230). Since they presented themselves as creditors, they ceased to appear as responsible for the ailing economy of the nation; the Greek state was now accountable to them instead. In this light, the petitions with regard to the economic terms of housing allowed a positive presentation of the refugee self and, at the same time, weakened the negative representations against the refugees.

In any case, paying off the refugee mortgages was not without complications, as the refugees developed diverse strategies. Those who had more economic resources were able to pay off their mortgage within the predesignated date or even ahead of that. The rate of paying off would also differ from one settlement to another (Gizeli 1984, p. 219). In Nea Ionia, Volos, the first deeds of property were issued in 1932 and were given to refugees who had paid off the whole amount for the value of their dwellings19.

In contrast with the situation described above, there were severe reactions such as the ones breaking out in May 1925 in the settlements of Kokkinia, Vyronas, Nea Ionia (Athens) and Kaisariani, where an appeal against the Committee for the Rehabilitation of the Refugees was posted on the walls, encouraging those having a vested interest to refuse to pay any rent or amortization before they receive damages20. Indeed, the Committee for the Rehabilitation of the Refugees observed that over the first years of the enterprise of selling the dwellings, the refugees had backed away from paying the installments due. For this reason, it noted, while reviewing and planning its policy anew in 1928, that the criteria for the selection of the people who were eligible for a dwelling ought to be reconsidered (Gizeli 1984, pp. 229-230, 238-239).

In Nea Ionia, Volos, the authorities drew up in 1927 warrants of imprisonment for debts, against refugees who had fallen in arrears with amortization. The Board of Directors of the association “Nea Ionia” responded by sending a cable to official institutions21 in which it demanded the revocation of the warrants “in order to prevent further disagreeable repercussions”. Eventually, the suspension of the prosecutions was ordered and the refugees imprisoned for debts were released (Konstantaras-Statharas 2008, p. 73). In the refugee rally held in Volos in 1927 there was a resolution, in which, among other things, one could read: “We ask the honorable government to see to the suspension of the refugee debts to the Committee for the Rehabilitation of the Refugees for par value against amounts due”22.

The competent departments kept demanding paying off of the refugee debts over the following years. The refugee debt was bound to be perpetuated for decades. As Vika Gizeli states, “the refugees were definitively trapped in a period of debt—that was the price they had to pay for their integration into the Greek society” (Gizeli 1984, p. 253). An illustrating example of the extension of debt in time is the fact that the conclusive concession documents for some of the refugee dwellings in Nea Ionia, Volos, were not given to the beneficiaries until many years later, in some cases even in 1970s. Over the following years, the cases of not paying off the debts were not uncommon. The provisional concession documents occasionally served as de facto property deeds. On certain occasions, the departments of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare were forced to grant property deeds (Stavrides et al. 2009, pp. 32-33).

The arrival of the refugees in 1922 dynamically redefined the discussion, the choices and the practices around housing issues while their presence posed open-to-debate questions concerning the notion of private property. During their “temporary” housing in various spots in the city of Volos, the refugees faced animosity and cultural disdain by the local, which was the rule but not without its exceptions, that is to say, local people who supported and showed solidarity to the refugees.

These initial forms of housing were perceived both by the state and the refugees themselves as provisional. Then, the segregation and their placing in the settlement in Nea Ionia reinforced their stigma and distinctive mark in relation to the local people.

The quest of permanent residence was central to the refugees’ lives as a key target. Achieving this target seemed to be some redemption. On the other hand, the state policies backed housing in private dwellings as a vehicle that would politically debilitate the refugees. The refugees had to integrate the identity of owner of the dwelling.

Nevertheless, the squats in the structures built in Nea Ionia indicate the active role played by the actors themselves in shaping their lives generally and, more specifically, the housing process. Thus, before the construction of the first houses had been completed, the sites under construction were occupied, undermining the schedules and timetables of the official planning. The intentional action of the refugees redetermined the boundaries and redefined the course of things. Their urgent housing needs came to the fore beyond lawfulness and against power institutions.

The squats became prominent as a significant political issue of the time, inducing fears of a potential social crisis. However, afterwards, the distribution of the dwellings was carried out by contracts and on the basis of mortgages that had to be paid off, trapping the refugees in their debtor condition for decades to come. It was part of a process of “normalisation” of the refugee housing. Most of the refugees found themselves forced, under harsh social conditions, to comply with the centrally decided housing political choices. Their debt was bound to be perpetuated for decades.

1. There is no such thing as “normal” housing in reality, it is an essentialist perception. It is used here, within quotation marks, exactly so as to demonstrate the changeability of housing and the terms of habitation being dynamically revisited with the arrival of the crowds of refugees.
2. A similar perception of demarcation of space is reported among the refugees housed in the Evangelical Church, by Dimitris Kokkinakis in his oral account (Interview of Dimitris Kokkinakis to Maria Karastergiou, 25.4.2013). In her testimony, Marianthi Monogeni- Sidiropoulou reports: “the school was covered with patchwork rugs for seven whole years. It was separated into rooms, but with patchwork rugs.” (interview to Maria Karastergiou, 14.6.2013). Audiovisual Archive of Life Stories, Laboratory of History of the Department of History, Archaeology and Social Anthropology, University of Thessaly.
3. Empros, 28.11.1924.
4. I Thessalia, “Ta prosfigika, i topothetisis eis ikias”, 26.9.1922 [“About the refugees- the process of placing them in domiciles”].
5. Apart from the complaints made about private property, the hostility towards the refugees culminated with the arson of the refugee stores situated in Rigas Feraios square, Volos, on 12 February 1936. A year before , the “Society of owners of houses and stores in Volos and surrounding areas” had been founded, which reflects the tense atmosphere prevailing in the city. According to the second article of its statute, “the aim of this society is to promote the interests of private property, to defend them against any menace and hazard and any action aiming at undermining property”. Court of First Instance of Volos- Societies/ Unions 1936, “Statute of the Society of Owners of houses and stores in Volos and surrounding areas”, 27.12.1935, General State Archives, department of Magnesia.
6. Tahidromos, “Ta sholia”, 14.3.1923 [“The schools”].
7. Tahidromos, “Efharistirion”, 7.4.1923 [“Thank-you”].
8. Interview of Dimitris Konstantaras-Statharas to Angeliki Nikolaou, 10.6.2016, Oral History Group of Volos Collection, General State Archives, department of Magnesia.
9. Interview with Maria Karastergiou, 11.4.2013, Audiovisual Archive of Life Stories, ibid.
10. Interview with Riki Van Boeschoten , 2.5.2013, Audiovisual Archive of Life Stories, ibid.
11. Interview with Maria Karastergiou, 11.4.2013, Audiovisual Archive of Life Stories, ibid.
12. Empros, 8.6.1925.
13. Rizospastis, 24.11.1924.
14. Rizospastis, ibid.
15. Tahidromos, “O prosfigikos sinikismos, ipilithi diakopi ton ergasion”, 27.7.1924 [“The refugee settlement, threat of works discontinuation”].
16. This description of the “housewife from Smyrna” captures symbolically a distinctive nature of the women refugees, depicting their psychological properties and laying out their activities correspondingly (Papataxiarhis 1998, p. 13). This division of things and activities on the basis of the contrast between male- female renders physical the gender differences by presenting them as self- evident (Bourdieu 2007, p. 41).
17. Interview of Nikolaos Spanakis with Maria Karastergiou, 30.5.2013, Audiovisual Archive of Life Stories, ibid.
18. Interview of Aliki Sotiriou with Maria Karastergiou, 11.4.2013, Audiovisual Archive of Life Stories, ibid.
19. Simea, 8. 5.1932, found in Konstantaras-Statharas 1994, p. 156.
20. Empros, 31.5.1925.
21. Among those who received the cable were the Prime Minister, other ministers and Members of the Parliament.
22. Simea, 27.1.1927, in Konstantaras-Statharas 2008, p. 131.

Court of first instance of Volos- Societies/ Unions, General State Archives, Department of Magnesia

I Thessalia

Oral History Group of Volos Collection, General State Archives, Department of Magnesia.
Audiovisual Archive of Life Stories, Laboratory of History of the Department of History, Archaeology and Social Anthropology, University of Thessaly

— Bourdieu, P. (2007). I Andriki Kiriarhia. Athens: Patakis.
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Cover image: Refugee tents, 1922. Photo: Kostas Zimeris. Stavros Batoudakis Collection. Municipal Center for Historical Research and Documentation of Volos.

Antonis Antoniou received his PhD in History at the University of Thessaly (2016). His main research interests and publications concern oral history, memory, colonialism and contemporary political history. He has also worked on several research programs, primarily focused on oral history methodology. In the last few years, he has been teaching at the Department of History-Archaeology-Social Anthropology at the University of Thessaly (“Oral History”, “History of the Modern World”, “Cultural History”, “Colonial and Postcolonial Studies”).


Volume 2, No. 2 October 2019