Greece migrants face rising racist violence
by Tim Hancock
If the EU is to truly deserve the Nobel Peace Prize, it must act to stamp out racist violence in Greece – and the Greek authorities should stop the anti-immigrant rhetoric that is fuelling the problem, says Amnesty International
They say the benchmark of a civilised society is how it treats its most vulnerable. If that is the case, the Greek authorities must take a serious look at the country's treatment of migrants – many of them asylum seekers fleeing conflict in the Middle East –as the impact of austerity cuts deepens.
It is estimated that 80 per cent of migrants enter the European Union through Greece. Amnesty has carried out research on their plight and found that they are facing a dramatic rise in levels of racist violence. In a new briefing published today called The end of the road for refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants, Amnesty also exposes how asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, are forced to live in increasingly overcrowded and unhygienic conditions. They have to deal with a chaotic asylum system that leaves many without papers and at risk of criminalisation.
Asylum seekers and other migrants are some of society's most vulnerable people. Often fleeing wars or persecution, or simply looking for a better life for their families, they are often cut off from wider family and social networks and lack access to basic health services, education and housing. Now, with no let-up in immigration, a profound economic crisis and rising xenophobic sentiment, Greece is proving itself incapable of providing even the most basic requirements of safety and shelter to the thousands of asylum seekers and migrants arriving each year. The current situation is totally unworthy of the Nobel Peace Prize winning EU and so far below international human rights standards as to make a mockery of them.
Most worrying is the rise in racist violence fuelled by anti-immigration rhetoric of politicians and carried out by supporters of far-right groups like Golden Dawn. Throughout 2012 asylum-seekers and migrants have been beaten up and community centres, shops and mosques vandalised. These assaults have been reported on an almost daily basis since the summer.
In one case in September, two men dressed in black entered a barbershop run by a Pakistani man. Two Pakistani men who were present, one of them staff, told Amnesty how the men verbally abused a Greek customer for having his hair cut in a Pakistani-owned barbers. When the customer responded, one of the men dressed in black stabbed him. Then they started attacking the shop and throwing Molotov cocktails. The police came to investigate and arrested the two Pakistani nationals because they had no documents. They both ended up in detention, pending deportation.
Migrants also face significant obstacles from border police. In June, a group of Syrian refugees were on a boat in the river Evros, where the Greece/Turkey border lies, trying to get to Greece. The Greek police arrived in a patrol boat and reportedly started pushing the migrants' inflatable dinghy back towards Turkey. Then a police officer used a knife to stab the boat, which deflated and sank, leaving the refugees to swim to the Turkish shore.
When migrants do make it to Greece, they face an uphill battle to register with the authorities. In Athens, asylum seekers have to queue for days to register at an office only open one day a week because of staff shortages. Those who do not manage to register, or give up trying, risk arrest in police sweep operations. They are then systematically detained in overcrowded, unhygienic detention facilities, in many cases for a year or more.
The detention of unaccompanied children is particularly worrying and in breach of international human rights standards. On a recent research visit to the detention centre in the city of Corinth, Amnesty found several children detained in very poor conditions. If a place is not found at a reception centre, children are released with nowhere to go.
If the EU is to truly deserve the Nobel Peace Prize awarded in October it must take urgent action to stamp out racist violence in Greece as well as in other countries like Spain. It must put pressure on member states to ensure that the most vulnerable within its borders do not face prejudice, discrimination and violence. As for the Greek authorities, they must stop the anti-immigration rhetoric fuelling this violence. They must also ensure they act within international human rights standards on immigration. People should not be locked up just because they are migrants and the detention of children must end now.
Tim Hancock is campaigns director at Amnesty International
So where is the newly appointed EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Stavros Lambrinidis, on this disturbing matter? Did he not give an interview on December 6 with Public Service Europe about promoting and protecting human rights (see, "Lambrinidis: human rights will not be 'footnote' in EU diplomacy")? Or is he turning a blind eye to the situation in his homeland of Greece?
Anon - St. Louis, Missouri, USA
I completely agree with this. Greece and Spain still have an endless and ongoing complex towards migrants, mainly fueled because of the fact that both nations were once under control by Muslim kingdoms (the Greece under the Ottoman Empire and Spain under the Al Andalusia Empire). They need to move on from the past and look at these Muslim migrants as not "threats" but more like human beings.
Jack - Canada