Greece’s other crisis: xenophobic violence
July 18th, 2012
05:28 PM ET

Greece’s other crisis: xenophobic violence

By Jan Egeland and Judith Sunderland, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jan Egeland is the Europe director of Human Rights Watch. Judith Sunderland is senior Western Europe researcher and author of the new Human Rights Watch report, “Hate on the streets: xenophobic violence in Greece.” The views expressed are solely those of the authors.

“I realized it is so easy to die here. We came from so far away and it is so easy to get killed here,” Ali Rahimi, an Afghan asylum seeker, told us after he was stabbed five times in the torso in September 2011.

Ali is just one of many victims of violence in Greece. Amid the economic crisis and rising social tension, migrants and asylum seekers have become the targets of xenophobic rage.  While researching our latest report we spoke to dozens of foreigners, including two pregnant women, who had been beaten, kicked, dragged off buses, and chased down the streets of Athens in recent months. Since late May alone, the media have reported seven brutal attacks. But many, like our Somali interpreter Saleh Ibrahim, whose hand was broken in an assault in late June, never report the violence.

Ali’s experience is a depressingly familiar story. He and a group of fellow Afghans were attacked in the Agios Panteleimonas neighborhood of central Athens by a large mob wielding bottles. This is a neighborhood known to migrants and asylum seekers as a place to avoid, where a “citizens group” formed several years ago to “protect” residents. Human Rights Watch documented numerous attacks in this location.

The only unusual aspect to Ali’s story is that his alleged attackers were arrested. Most victims face significant obstacles in seeking justice. The police discourage many victims from filing complaints, telling them it’s not worth it, to fight back themselves, or, in the case of undocumented migrants, that they could be locked up themselves. Those who insist face a 100 euro fee to file an official complaint. Arrests for several attacks in June stand as a stark exception to the rule of police inaction.

Despite being put on a fast track, the trial of two men and one woman for Ali’s stabbing has been postponed six times – it’s now scheduled for September – and it’s still unclear whether the prosecutor will argue that the attack was racially motivated. To date, no one has been convicted under the hate crime law Greece adopted almost four years ago.

There’s no excuse for vigilante violence, or for the failure of the police, the courts and government to take the problem seriously. There are, perhaps, some explanations.

There is no doubt that Greece faces migration pressure. An estimated as many as 300 undocumented migrants enter Greece every day from Turkey. Though most migrants and asylum seekers hope to travel to other European countries, EU rules mean that Greece is obliged to prevent that travel and to process all asylum claims. With its dysfunctional asylum system unable to cope, Greece has become for migrants what one Sudanese man described as “a very large prison.”

This ancient civilization shouldn’t be allowed to regress into institutionalized violence against migrants. The EU needs to do more to guarantee basic human rights for those who enter the continent in its southeast with hopes of a better and safer life.

An influx of destitute migrants living on the streets has brought disconcerting change to Greek cities, particularly in Athens. Concerns about rising crime and urban degradation were high on the agenda in the lead-up to recent national elections. Nationalist, far right-wing parties such as Golden Dawn have in recent years gained strength and popularity largely because of their exploitation of anti-immigrant sentiment, winning enough votes in the May and June 2012 national elections to enter parliament for the first time in its history. It now has 18 seats.

There are indications that Golden Dawn members or sympathizers are involved in attacks on migrants and asylum seekers, although nothing to indicate the party is organizing or directing them. The woman standing trial for Ali’s stabbing ran – unsuccessfully – for office in the recent national elections on the Golden Dawn ticket. Three other party members were questioned in early June in connection with violence against migrants on the margins of a Golden Dawn demonstration although none was charged. Party member have been implicated in other attacks.

Widespread suffering amid deep economic hardship and unfair EU asylum rules do not, however, let Greece off the hook. The new government led by Antonis Samaras needs to take forceful steps to counter xenophobic violence. That includes ensuring that police take preventive action, diligently record and respond to reports of xenophobic attacks, and guarantee that victims have genuine access to justice. The EU also has a role to play by helping Greece with technical and financial assistance.

Violence has become such a part of daily life for migrants and asylum seekers in Greece that an Afghan community festival in May included a skit about a man being brutally beaten in a park by Greek racists. We hope at the next festival time we see a play about justice being done for the victims of hatred.

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Topics: Europe • Greece

soundoff (112 Responses)
  1. rightospeak

    Communism and Globalism can not change human nature.

    July 20, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Reply
  2. Sparkle

    Economic globalization like free trade are good things. Political globalization, like continental governance, on the other could be disastrous.
    Free trade allows goods to be produced from the most efficient nations and brings down the cost to all consumers. Nay sayers believe that it costs the local economy jobs as things are being imported rather than developed internally. History has shown that overall, the economy benefits from free trade from cheaper goods more than it losses from job loss.
    Globalization also strengthens international relations. China and the USA were bitter enemies; however, our economies are tied together and force friendly relations.

    July 20, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Reply
    • nomththanks

      zionist nonsense./

      July 22, 2012 at 6:20 am | Reply
  3. Leftcoastrocky

    Greece needs to start by immediately fixing its dysfunctional asylum system.

    July 20, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Reply
  4. Leftcoastrocky

    Turkey is prospering economically and Greece is failing - a big turn of events.

    July 20, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Reply
  5. John Funk

    Attetion: .rightospeak

    "Communism and Globalism can not change human nature."
    Right – only Jesus can. He changed mine. Give Him a chance at your nature. Ask Him. His nature is love. Pure love.
    But unlike Muslims, He wil never force Himself on you. But Jesus will change you if you ask Him – humbly – sincerely.

    July 21, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Reply
    • nomththanks

      Take your Jesus and walk across a lake. See how far you get.

      And another thing, Greeks should be going after the Jews that cause the problems, not after the people the Jews are bringing in to destroy a nation. F the world banks and their Zionist pwners.

      July 22, 2012 at 6:19 am | Reply
      • Atahualpa Yupanki

        You sound like e truly educated man. I hope you can read labels on bottles, but I doubt that very much. You should add hot chilli sauce to Preparation H. The result will be explosive and it will help to clear you mind. And everything else. The God Tapu is the only one.

        July 23, 2012 at 6:36 am |
    • Atahualpa Yupanki

      Jesus will never force himself on you. You are right. The Sulpicians, Franciscans, Jesuits, Conquistadores, politicos and many more, did force Jesus down our throats. Pachamama was our Mother, then you came. To save us in the name of the Lord. Millions of us died getting saved.

      July 23, 2012 at 6:41 am | Reply
      • Atahualpa Yupanki

        And let us not forget the Evangelical pastors, who threaten you with Hell unless you give them money.

        July 23, 2012 at 6:44 am |
  6. John Funk

    Attention: Black Widow, you said, "I am blinded by the hate that Islam has taught me." See answer to Rightospeak. If you are Jewish reading this, consider – Israel's recognition of their Messiah, He says
    Therefore My people shall know My name: therefore they shall know in that day that I am He that does speak: behold it is I. Jeshua. And they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son. And one shall say unto Him, What are these wounds in your hands? Then He shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of My friends. They pierced My hands and My feet. Is. 52:6, Zec.12:10 & 13:6, Ps. 22:16.

    Is. 48:16. Come ye near unto me, hear ye this: I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord God, and His spirit has sent Me
    Zec. 9:12. Turn you to the stronghold, ye prisoners of hope; even today do I declare that I will render double (blessings) unto you. The Stronghold is Messiah Jeshua.

    July 21, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Reply
    • Atahualpa Yupanki

      It is by now, very obvious how you spend your free time. Too many coca leaves is no good. All you do is quote. Not a single original thought. No need, right? The Lord will provide. You are lucky, living in the US. Your vast personal fat reserves impede the blood from circulating efficiently to your brain. Instead, the methane you let go every once in a while, is clouding your reasoning. Oh, the Epiphany!

      July 23, 2012 at 6:48 am | Reply
  7. Bribarian

    White genocide not going to planned?

    July 22, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Reply
    • Atahualpa Yupanki

      No. grenofried not be pranned. Wattsammattafohyou? We ar not Bribarians. I always wanted to be an educated ma. Now, I ar won.

      July 23, 2012 at 6:52 am | Reply
  8. Atahualpa Yupanki

    The only solution is to live like Incas. Chew coca leaves all day, while working in the mines for the Yanqui dollar. After work, coca leaves with beer, then blissful sleep. Then again for more next day.

    July 23, 2012 at 6:31 am | Reply
  9. d

    Ever see the movie 300? It's a lot like this.

    July 23, 2012 at 8:43 am | Reply
  10. Amit-Atlanta-USA

    The greatest mistake was admitting Greece into the EU. Now the Europeans have to deal with this bitter pill which they have already swallowed.

    But if the current situation is causing nightmares, one can only imagine the impending disaster that is threatening to strike Europe with the exploding immigrant population.

    As the LONG TERM HEALTH & PROSPERITY OF A COUNTRY is a TRUE REFLECTION OF ITS FUTURE CITIZENS, with the steady decline in Europe’s local white Christian population and the increase in immigrant Muslim population whose VALUE SYSTEMS are DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSITE to that of everything that Europeans hitherto believed in, there is no hope that Europe will ever recover from the current economic and social decline. This is disregarding the fact that at least a part of the current economic crisis is as a result of large scale welfare funds distributed to these new immigrants by the already hard hit Europeans.

    Having said that, Mr. Zakaria can never convince Europeans or Americans on his honesty & fair analysis, given that he has been tirelessly propagating his co-religionists all over the world, and in Europe’s case specifically Turkey's admission into the EU, literally opening the floodgates for greater Muslim migration into Europe and eventually America.

    Given the current bitter experience of the EU with the Greeks, inspite of its fairly diversified economy Turkey can only be a much bigger liability both economically (with the yawning gap between Turkey and EU nations), and ofcourse demographically.

    Unfortunately the naïve & extremely liberal Europeans are missing this much bigger threat while taking a myopic view of the current crisis. Greece as a conduit to large scale illegal immigrants (from the ME, N.Africa, Pakistan & Bangladesh) who eventually make their way into rest of Europe is only making matters much worse…….on all counts!

    July 23, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Reply
  11. Amit-Atlanta-USA

    When will we get to see/hear CNN's Mr.Fareed Zakaria and others urging the Saudis and other oil rich MErn nations to open up their borders for their long suffering CO-RELIGIONISTS, rather than urging naive Europeans to accept such unadaptable alien cultures?

    July 23, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Reply
  12. Unknown

    This article is extremely bias. Note to authors: Seeing as you are researching human rights, perhaps you should consider to view the problem at its root: the reason(s) these immigrants left in the first place from their home countries. Why don't you write an article about the dangers those countries hold?

    The media ought to stop bullying Greece all the time. Greeks welcome people from every part of the world, but when illegal immigrants create trouble and violence (and of course I know that not all do), then they will protect themselves.

    A last note, that picture you have put is deceiving and not applicable to the article.

    July 23, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Reply
  13. Alex G

    The fact of the matter is that Greece has been one of the poorest countries in Europe for the last 100 years. Following the Pontian genocide and forced population exchange in WW1, Greece was then the most destroyed country by the Nazis and more citizens died than any other nation (in ratio to population). The Civil War began after WW2 before the rise of a military Junta. The former Turkish Primeminister, Mesut Yilmaz, then admitted that Turkish agents set forest fires in the Greece in the 1990's in a bid to destroy the country's agricultural industry & to destablise it. Despite all that Greece had the lowest crime rate in Europe, it was a place that was safe to go for everyone! In recent years though there has been an influx of illegal immigration through Turkey (mainly from Afghanistan, Nigeria & Pakistan). Balkan Analysis, an independent group, studied crime stats in Greece & have found that this has coincided with a drastic rise in crime. Stats from the Greek police & Interpol show that almost 80% of crime committed in Greece is by non-EU illegal immigrants, who now equate to an estimated 1.5 million in Athens alone, a city of only 4.5 million (that's 30%!). When visitors enter into one of the world's safest countries & engage in violent crime there's bound to be a backlash. This is what has caused a rise of anti-immigrant sentiment in Greece. The EU's immigration policies have been imposed on Greece & the Greeks are suffering as a result. Anybody interested in politics, crime, Greece or the EU MUST read this following article.

    August 4, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Reply
  14. Alex Papakwsta

    Please help us, but not with your money. People here seem to be more and more aggravated. fearful and so full of hate. Eager I would say to find an escape goat. Someone to blame. Xenophobia and attacks based on it are going through the roof.

    I live in one of the most crowded places worldwide. Kypseli. The percentage of foreigners is high, yes we do have thefts, but all in all it is quiet. So quiet that I take my dog out after midnight and feel safe enough to walk him to Fokionos Negri and back. But, as a foreigner I am trapped here. See, I grew up in this country. I learned to love and hate it like all feel about their hometown. This is the country that I took my first steps, this is the city that housed my memories, my friends and family, and right now, I hate it.

    People seem to judge me by the colour of my skin, not a shocker I know, but I remind you I grew up here. This kind of behaviour is not what I am accustomed to. It just changed the past couple of years. Most frequent comment when you point this out is "I am not a racist, they are just not human. They are beasts."

    So apparently, if your colour does not fall within the range they find acceptable you are immediately branded as a criminal, a wildling. You will tell me that it is normal because of the influx of illegal immigrants and the crimes they commit. I agree, to a point.
    See, xenophobia is the new drug on the streets and it is officially administered by both government and media. One so-called blog reporter went as far as reporting images of African illegal immigrants mocking the presidential guard (a symbol of national pride, representing the heroes). PS. The images are those of Kevin Durant during his visit in Greece!!!!
    Far right supporters are now officially and PUBLICLY admitting to hate crimes knowing that no-one will bother to arrest them, since 50% of the law enforcement has voted for the far-right party of Golden Dawn.
    seems like should I get arrested, I am already guilty of a crime; none you will find in any law book though.
    PS. yes greece has an immigration issue, but the claim THEY are taking our jobs is invalid. Most of the immigrants go for the menial jobs accepting lower wages and no insurance. Most crimes are commited by Greeks, according at least to the official Greek Police site statistics.

    August 13, 2012 at 9:42 am | Reply
    • G Grant

      Maybe xenophobia is a Natural human response when a certain group feels threatened by other, a response as an attempt to protect a system or values or a financial income for personal survival, or it is a psychological response when a group feels mentally or physically inferior to another group that has better dna and mental capabilities, or they just feel over run by too many of the threatening group. Yes we must try to curb such action but that is reality that lurks in any society, anywhere on earth. Even the pope will start attacking muslims if the Vatican is over run by them. Greece will have to be avoided by groups that may pose a threat for the next,- say 7 years.? Even the muslim show a kind of xenophobia towards Christians and Christians are not tolerated in most muslim countries. They feel "threatened" by it although Christians would normally be kind and forgiving and have this life quest to do onto others, as you would do to yourself. I have sympathy with the Greeks and this xenophobia will be slightly positive and grossly negative. They will have a few more local jobs for themselves but foreign investment may be curbed and tourists will spend their money elsewhere, that will lead to far greater losses for the country and eventually for the individuals. Look at Zimbabwe- Greece can learn from the xenophobic racist Mugabe. By chasing most whites away and destroying the economy for xenophobia's sake, he turned his nation and himself into a nation of beggars. He must beg money from South Africa to allow his wife to do shopping in the East. Even in South Africa, whites are targeted by the racist police and farmers are tortured and killed because they are supposed to belong in Europe. North Korea hates Americans and a plea must also be sent to that government to stop what they are doing. Xenophobia will destroy countries and Greece better stop it now.

      January 28, 2013 at 2:13 am | Reply
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