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On streets of Athens, racist attacks increase


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– Photo by AFP/File

ATHENS: The attack came seemingly out of nowhere. As the 28-year-old Bangladeshi man dug around trash bins one recent afternoon for scrap metal, two women and a man set upon him with a knife. He screamed as he fell. Rushed to the hospital, he was treated for a gash to the back of his thigh.

Police are investigating the assault as yet another in a rising wave of extreme-right rage against foreigners as Greece sinks further into economic misery. The details vary, but the cold brutality of each attack is the same: dark-skinned migrants confronted by thugs, attacked with knives and broken bottles, wooden bats and iron rods.

Rights groups warn of an explosion in racist violence over the past year, with a notable surge since national elections in May and June that saw dramatic gains by the far-right Golden Dawn party. The severity of the attacks has increased too, they say. What started as simple fist beatings has now escalated to assaults with metal bars, bats and knives.

Another new element: ferocious dogs used to terrorise the victims.    “Violence is getting wilder and wilder and we still have the same pattern of attacks, committed by groups of people in quite an organized way,” said Kostis Papaioannou, former head of the Greek National Commission for Human Rights.

As Greece's financial crisis drags on for a third year, living standards for the average Greek have plummeted. A quarter of the labour force is out of work, with more than 50 per cent of young people unemployed. An increasing number of Greeks can't afford basic necessities and healthcare. Robberies and burglaries are never out of the news for long.

With Greece a major entry point for hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants seeking a better life in the European Union, foreigners have become a convenient scapegoat.

Some victims turn up at clinics run by charities, recounting experiences of near lynching. Others are afraid to give doctors the details of what happened and even more afraid of going to the police. Those who are more seriously hurt end up in hospitals with white bandages around their heads or plaster casts around broken limbs.

“Every day we see someone who complained of (some form) of racist violence,” said Nikitas Kanakis, president of the Greek section of Doctors of the World, which runs a drop-in clinic and pharmacy central Athens that treats the uninsured.

Racist attacks are not officially recorded, so statistics are hard to come by. In an effort to plug that gap and sensitise a population numbed by three years of financial crisis, a group of rights groups and charities banded together to document the violence.

They registered 87 cases of racist attacks between January and September, but say the true number runs into the hundreds.

“Most of the time the victims, they don't want to talk about this, they don't feel safe,” Kanakis said. “The fear is present and this is the bigger problem.”

Frances William, who heads the tiny Tanzanian community of about 250 people, knows the feeling well. “People are very, very much afraid,” he said, adding that even going next door to buy bread, “I'm not sure I'll be safe to come back home.”

The community's cultural center was attacked several weeks ago, with amateur video shot from across the street showing a group of muscled men in black T-shirts smashing the entrance.

Earlier that day, children standing outside during a birthday party were threatened by a man brandishing a pistol, William said.

The recent elections showed a meteoric rise in popularity of the formerly marginalised Golden Dawn, which went from less than half a per cent in 2009 elections to nearly 7 per cent of the vote and 18 seats in the country's 300-member parliament in June.

Campaigning on a promise to “clean up the stench” in Greece, the party whose slogan is “blood, honour, Golden Dawn” has made no secret of its views on migrants: all are in the country illegally and must be deported.

Greece's borders must be sealed with landmines and military patrols, and any Greeks employing or renting property to migrants should face punishment.

The party vehemently denies it is involved in racist attacks.

“The only racist attacks that exist in Greece for the last years are the attacks that illegal immigrants are doing against Greeks,” said Ilias Panagiotaros, a burly Golden Dawn lawmaker who divides his working time between Parliament and his sports shop, which also sells military and police paraphernalia.

His party is carrying out a “very legitimate, political fight through parliament and through the neighbourhoods of Athens and of Greece,” he said.

The party's tactics, handing out food to poor Greeks and pledging to protect those who feel unprotected by the police, are working.

Recent opinion polls have shown Golden Dawn's support rising to between 9 and 12 per cent.

In late August, the conservative-led coalition government began addressing the issue of illegal immigration by rounding up migrants. By early November, they had detained more than 48,480 people, arresting 3,672 of them for being in the country illegally.

Rights groups also warn that what started as xenophobic attacks is now spreading to include anyone who might disagree with the hard-right view. Greek society must understand that the far-right rise doesn’t just concern migrants, said Kanakis.

“It has to do with all of us,” he said. “It’s a problem of everyday democracy.”

Comments (22) Closed

Logic Nov 12, 2012 02:59pm
Have you even read the article? Is religiion even mentioned once in it?
ZZX-1 Nov 13, 2012 10:19am
Well said Jason.
Jason Nov 12, 2012 11:02pm
Samresh; it's an article about the rise of racist attacks on migrant workers not about 'Murderous Muslims demanding equality in Greece'. I'm really amazed that Dawn is able to publish such a racist comment. Ironically, from the sounds of your name, you'd be their target if you were there. Ridiculous comment.
john Nov 12, 2012 10:38pm
Control your population because the existing resources are inadequate to cater to the demands of ever rising population of the country. Younger generation is migrating to other countries due to lack of economic opportunities at home. India, the so called emerging economic giant is also not immune from this phenomenon:apart from educated Indians one also comes across illegal immigrants from India in the United States. The most important thing any government in Pakistan can do is to put a stop to ever increasing population; if it is not controlled then there would be chaos and mayhem everywhere. Nobody, meaning the elite and ruling class is paying any attention to this issue because they are dual nationals and will fly off to greener pastures if things deteriorate to the level of ungovernable.
athena Nov 12, 2012 10:07pm
Go back to where you belong
Alif Nov 13, 2012 12:17pm
You too...
Noor Nov 13, 2012 02:18am
so why a far cry when one of your country men gets beaten in melbourne ? so what do you call the fellow country men in your country. The Untouchables ??? What equality are you on about Mr ?
raika45 Nov 13, 2012 01:00pm
Common sense goes out the window when you have no job to feed your family or meet other expenses like the house mortgage and you see your government feeding and housing these people.
Gul Nov 13, 2012 02:18pm
It is their furstration and not a solution to the problem, their economy continues like that they wil next go after each other forget about the migriants.
malaydeb Nov 13, 2012 06:44am
Surprisingly most immigrants are from Muslim countries/communities. Once landed, they ask for equal rights, which they don
anony Nov 13, 2012 07:33am
I would certainly not 'beat the person' to death even if he/she's in my country illegally and looking for a job. Get some common sense please.
anony Nov 13, 2012 07:34am
Thats what the hindus do all the time....drag their baseless religion in news articles they don't even belong to.
anony Nov 13, 2012 07:34am
Well said :-)
John Nov 12, 2012 04:21pm
Surprise! Surprise! What about rights of minorities like Hindu's in Pakistan? How can you expect others to respect your rights if you don't do the same for others? Isn't it then hypocrisy?
karim Nov 13, 2012 02:44pm
Immigrants are not the cause of Greek economic troubles.
PakWatch Nov 13, 2012 08:34am
They don't have opportunity or welcome in their own papers so they come here to abuse our hospitality
Naeem Malik Nov 12, 2012 04:01pm
As a Muslim I have no problem with anybody coming to a Muslim country. I have got a problem when they come with their Drones, their artillery and demand they be immune from any prosecution when they are caught harming others. Pity is they get the immunity and they come fully armed and fully secure in the knowledge that no harm will come to them no matter what they do to others.
Cynical Nov 12, 2012 01:52pm
Why go to an un-Islamic country? They very different people with not so pure culture. These people should stay back in their home country. If at all, they should migrate to Muslim countries, where people are tolerant, democratic and respect human rights.
Samresh Nov 12, 2012 12:47pm
Talk about audacity - Cant tolerate muslims of other sects in their country but demand equality in a foreign land !
Hindu Kush Nov 13, 2012 08:25am
They respond to online articles all over the world. Always abusing, bashing Pakistan and Muslims...trying to create a bad world image of Islam and Muslim culture with their lies. Dawn provides them enough opportunity to expose their shameful Hindu cult. For those who can read between the lines.
raika45 Nov 12, 2012 01:17pm
When your own job is in jeopardy in your own country due to the economic recession, will you allow an outsider to come reside in your country looking for jobs? Or being given financial aid while they are there?The days of European charity to immigrants are long gone.They are now looked upon as financial parasites, which the country can ill afford.There is no sympathy for illegal immigrants around the world.It is time they stood up and fought for their rights in their motherland.
Aamir Nov 13, 2012 08:22am
Lets make our society Islamic first. A country should not be declared Islamic according to populations. We are far behind as compared to what islam teaches us. The rule of law should be according to Quran, Sunnah, Ijma and Qiyas.