Hate on the streets
Human Rights Watch condemns Greece for racially motivated violence
The Greek authorities are failing to tackle a rising wave of xenophobic violence that has left migrants afraid to walk the streets, Human Rights Watch said in a report released this week.
The 99-page report, entitled "Hate on the Streets: Xenophobic Violence in Greece", documents the failure of the police and the judiciary to prevent and punish rising attacks on migrants.
Despite clear patterns to the violence and evidence that it is increasing, the police have failed to respond effectively to protect victims and hold perpetrators to account, Human Rights Watch found. Authorities have yet to develop a preventive policing strategy, while victims are discouraged from filing official complaints.
No one has been convicted under Greece's 2008 hate crime statute.
In the report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) documents the experiences of 59 victims of racist attacks, between August 2009 and May 2012. Fifty-one of those interviewed had carried serious injuries after the attacks and had been hospitalised while two of them were pregnant women. Many of those interviewed claim to have been discouraged by police, to file official complaints and in some cases, when they are not able to prove that they are legal migrants, threatened by police that they would be expelled from the country. The rise in violence has led to many migrants being afraid to walk the streets of Athens, particularly at night.
"I started showing new arrivals a map of Athens with a red line around areas they should avoid at night. This is exactly what I used to do in Afghanistan with the Red Cross about places people shouldn't go because of fighting. And here I am doing the same thing in a European country," Yunus Mohammadi the president of an association of Afghans in Greece said to the HRW researchers.
Afghan immigrant Razia Sharife - a single mother of three - said her basement apartment had been attacked four times in January.
"They wear black clothes and hoods," she was quoted as saying in the report, describing one attack.
"At first they threw bottles and then they broke the glass with stones and threw stones inside and then they started kicking the door."
"People coming from war zones are scared to go out at night in Athens for fear of being attacked," said AAP, Judith Sunderland, senior Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch.
"The economic crisis and migration cannot excuse Greece's failure to tackle violence that is tearing at its social fabric."
Sunderland said a Somali man who acted as an interpreter for the rights group was himself the victim of a racist attack last month, when he was chased and beaten by five men who broke his hand.
"I can't find another word besides shocking - it really took me aback … One woman attacked was six months pregnant and holding her infant daughter. Another woman's hand was ripped open after being hit by men on a motorcycle, by a bat with nails in it," she said, noting that several of the victims interviewed were school-age boys.
According to what the victims say, the attackers are moving in groups in certain central Athens areas, they wear dark coloured clothes and have their faces covered with headscarves and helmets. In some cases they assault their victims with high powered motorbikes, with the most common weapons used, being knives and broken bottles. As the report reveals in some instances the assailants after their violent attack had also robbed their victims.
Racially-motivated attacks, including raids on immigrants' homes and stores as well as streets assaults, have surged in the past two years, and often follow public outcry over a violent crime blamed on immigrants, the report said. Attacks most frequently occurred in or near Athens and the western city of Patras.
"Xenophobic violence has reached alarming proportions in Greece," the report said. "The Greek authorities must take urgent action to crack down on this alarming phenomenon."
In recent general elections, the far-right Golden Dawn party - which uses aggressive rhetoric against immigrants, and has been described by political opponents as neo-Nazi - won 18 seats in the 300-member parliament.
Golden Dawn spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, during a weekend debate in parliament, described the country's immigration problem as part of a plan by Greece's enemies to it turn into a "wretched protectorate inhabited by sub-humans with no conscience, country or culture".
He called for land-mines to be laid along the country's borders.
Golden Dawn has denied frequent allegations by the victims' of attacks that it has any involvement in the violence.
Sunderland, who is meeting this week with Greece's top prosecutor and senior government law enforcement and justice officials, said Human Rights Watch was concerned that extremist rhetoric was entering mainstream politics.
She called for stronger public condemnation of hate crimes, the use of domestic intelligence services to track violent ultra-right groups, and financial support from the E.U. to help Greece deal with the problem.
"The state should not be allowing gangs of thugs to mete out vigilante violence in its city streets," she said.
"We certainly think all of Europe has to pay attention to what's happening in Greece."
Finally in a related development, the chairs of the migration and equality committees of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) expressed concern about a spike in racist violence in Greece as well as Malta, another popular destination for undocumented migrants seeking a better future in the European Union. "Attacks against migrants and refugees are of increasing concern, including in Greece, where there are a worrying number of allegations of police brutality, and failures by them to investigate racist attacks on migrants and refugees," Giacomo Santini and Tina Acketoft said in a joint statement.
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