Amnesty International is calling on Greek authorities to “prevent racist and xenophobic attacks and fully investigate those that occur”. The NGO announced their plea in an article on their website, written as a response to the fatal stabbing of an Iraqi man in August.
The 19-year-old died after being repeatedly stabbed in central Athens by a gang of five people on motorcycles. The same gang had tried to attack a Romanian and a Moroccan before the fatal attack, police reports say.
The attack against the Iraqi man came days after Amnesty International called on Greek authorities to put a stop on a police crackdown on “irregular immigrants”, launched early August. 8,000 foreign nationals were arrested in a crackdown of Athens, with 1,600 placed in administrative detention after failing to produce official documentation.
Jezerca Tigani, Deputy Europe and Central Asia Program Director at Amnesty International, expressed the organisation’s concern that “recent police operations against immigrants” suggest people are being discriminated against based on their perceived ethnicity.
The NGO recognises the Greek authorities’ right to control immigration, but have publicly stated they “do not have the right to treat people…like criminals purely because of the colour of their skin”.
Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias told Kathimerini that racist attacks is a “new phenomenon” in Greece, but that controlling the illegal immigration problem was a matter of “national survival”.
“For the police, this field [of racist attacks] is terra incognita. Racist crime is a complex issue,” he said.
Reports of increasing attacks on places of worship have also been reported in recent weeks in Athens, Pireus and Crete. On August 9 in Pireus, 15 Golden Dawn members on motorbikes threw lit flares into a prayer room for Muslim worshippers as 10 migrants were praying inside. In a separate attack, two Pakistani nationals were beaten by a group of unknown men who entered their house in Vonitsa.
A report from Human Rights Watch report that after attacks some illegal immigrants were scared to report the crime for fear of being deported. They are also being “routinely discouraged from filing official complaints”, with police telling victims they would have to pay a fee to file a complaint in some cases.
Police will be continuing the sweep-operations, code named “Xenios Zeus”, throughout Athens and the rest of the country. Mr Dendias said an evaluation of the operation will be made on December 31, to decide on appropriate next steps for the initiative.
During a surprise visit to Omonia in downtown Athens, where many of the sweeps have taken place, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras emphasised the importance of continuing the operation.
“We need to make Athens a safe place because Greeks cannot live differently. This needs to happen all over the country. We really have to continue,” said Samaras after talking with local shopkeepers.
Currently Greece houses 800,000 legally-registered immigrants, while undocumented immigrants are estimated to exceed 350,000. Both legal and illegal immigrants have started calling attention to their situation. In what was believed to be one of the largest anti-racism rallies in Athens’ history, 3,000 people attended a protest in front of the Parliament, holding signs emblazoned with messages like “No Islamophobia” and “Neo Nazis out!”
The Golden Dawn spokesman and parliament member Ilias Kasidiaris swiftly condemned the government for allowing the rally, saying the Constitution protects gatherings of only Greeks, not foreigners.
News of the racist attack on the Muslim place of worship by Golden Dawn members also marks a worrying trend in Greece – anti-immigrant sentiment and violence against immigrants have raised along side the extreme right-wing party’s growing foothold in the Parliament this year.
Capitalising on escalating unemployment figures and crime fear, the party has made anti-immigration policy easier to swallow. Arguably the party’s most publicised method was when Golden Dawn members handed out food parcels outside the Parliament, on the condition that people showed their ID cards to prove their citizenship.
“At night they beat people up. And by day, they hand out food,” said left-wing Athens city councillor Petros Constantinou, in an interview with the AP.
Golden Dawn denies any involvement in the recent surge of street attacks against Asian immigrants in Athens and other cities, despite repeated claims to the contrary by migrant groups and human rights activists. The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks has described it “the most overtly extremist and Nazi party in Europe” and has called on Greece to examine if it is legal.