Greece has become anything but hospitable to migrants and asylum seekers over the years, as anti-immigrant sentiment and xenophobic violence spread. In July, we documented dozens of attacks on foreigners, who had been beaten, kicked, and chased down the streets of Athens by gangs of Greeks. Victims included migrants and asylum seekers, children and women, two of them pregnant.
There is also growing evidence that Golden Dawn members and sympathizers are involved in xenophobic attacks.
“They say it’s a free country but then they beat me because I’m a migrant,” Qadir Hossaini, a legal Afghan migrant, told us after a group of people attacked him in September 2011.
Hossaini, like the vast majority of the victims, has little chance to see justice done. We found that attackers are rarely arrested, and police inaction is the rule. Many victims don’t report attacks to the police because of lack of trust, but the police themselves actively discourage many victims from filing complaints. The police tell the victims it’s not worth it because they cannot recognize the assailants, that they should fight back themselves, or, in the case of undocumented migrants, that they could be detained and deported. Those who insist face a 100 Euro fee to file an official complaint.
One positive development, if slow in coming, was the establishment last month by Minister Nikos Dendias of specialized police units to address racist violence. Unfortunately the units do not have a clear mandate to investigate all hate crimes comprehensively, no matter the legal status of the victim, and there are outstanding questions about how the units will be staffed. These issues raise concerns about how effective the units will be.
There is no more excuse for vigilante violence, or for the failure of the police, the courts and government to demonstrate zero tolerance for xenophobic violence by ensuring justice for all victims.
Eva Cossé monitors Greece for Human Rights Watch