• 'They hit me on the head with a wooden stick ... My daughter was crying' - Mina Ahmad, a 20-year-old Somali woman, attacked in central Athens in October 2011 (Photo: Zalmai)

Report: EU and Greece turn 'blind-eye' to racist violence

11.07.12 @ 09:28

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - Parts of central Athens, associated in many Europeans' minds with tourist cafes and world-class museums, have become "no-go" areas for migrants in fear of racist attacks.

NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a report out on Tuesday (10 July) documented 24 serious incidents in the Aghios Panteleimonas district, a few blocks from the National Archological Museum, and 19 other attacks in nearby areas between August 2009 and May 2012.

In one incident in Aghios Panteleimonas in December 2011, an 18-year-old Somali man, Yasser Abdurraham, was punched and knifed by a group of six or seven men on motorcycles.

In another incident near the Attiki train station, an Afghan couple with refugee status, Mahmoud and Maria, were attacked by two men on motorbikes, one of whom hit Maria with a wooden club studded with nails.

The report also recorded incidents outside the capital city - in Aspropyrgos, Corinth, Crete and in Patras.

The NGO's interviews with other humanitarian groups in Greece indicated there were over 300 assaults in Athens in the first half of 2011 alone, even though Athens police handled just nine "hate crimes" in the whole of last year.

"Preoccupied by the economic crisis and concerned with control of irregular immigration, national authorities - as well as the EU and the international community at large - have largely turned a blind eye," the HRW survey says.

"People coming from war zones are scared to go out at night in Athens ... The economic crisis and migration cannot excuse Greece's failure to tackle violence that is tearing at its social fabric," the NGO's Judith Sunderland noted.

The report urges Greek authorities to speak out against xenophobia "at the highest level" and to launch training programmes for police in order to end a culture of "negligence."

It also calls on EU institutions - such as commissioner Vivianne Reding's justice department and the EU Council's working group on fundamental rights - to start monitoring the problem and to allocate funds to help Greece tackle the situation.

The report notes that anti-immigrant feeling has become deeply rooted in Greek society.

Around 1 million mostly Afghan, Pakistani and African irregular migrants currently reside in Greece according to government estimates, with the outsiders often blamed for street crime and social decay.

Some of the attacks are carried out by vigilante groups associated with the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party.

In the run-up to recent elections - which saw Golden Dawn win 18 seats in parliament - the party advocated putting landmines on the Greek-Turkish border and giving Greek soldiers the freedom to shoot to kill trespassers.

Mainstream parties also used xenophobic language, however.

"Greece today has become a center for illegal immigrants. We must take back our cities," Antonis Samaras, the new Greek centre-right Prime Minister, said in a campaign rally.

He referred to migrants as a "disease" later in the same speech.

Giving credence to HRW's "blind-eye" diagnosis, Vasileios Kousoutis, a major general at the ministry of citizen protection, told the NGO in an interview: "In my personal opinion, there is no tendency to have racist violence ... We have not registered an increase in racism or xenophobia."