Bishoy, a 25-year-old Egyptian asylum seeker, at an anti-racist demonstration in the southern Athens suburb of Kallithea, where he was a victim in one of two separate racist attacks in May 2012 that left four migrants injured.

© 2012 Zalmaï for Human Rights Watch

Greece’s new immigration code, which entered into force on June 1, should have been a landmark law protecting undocumented migrants who are victims of racist attacks. Instead, it was a missed opportunity to combat the country’s epidemic of racist violence.  

While working with Human Rights Watch in Greece, I have heard repeatedly from undocumented immigrants that they were afraid to go to the police after experiencing racist violence for fear of possible detention and deportation. This, in turn, creates serious obstacles in bringing to justice those responsible for these violent crimes.

The government removed a provision from an immigration bill adopted in March that would have allowed prosecutors to grant residence permits on humanitarian grounds to undocumented victims and witnesses to felonies and other serious crimes, including hate crimes. The provision would have also covered victims of forced labor and some rejected asylum seekers with protection needs.

The axed provision would have also allowed humanitarian residence permits to be renewed by existing eligible foreigners, including victims of trafficking and domestic violence, as well as those with serious health problems. The absence of the article from the new code means those groups are now ineligible to apply for or renew these permits.

On June 2, the Greek ombudsman called for the code to be frozen until a provision on the conditions for granting residence permits on humanitarian grounds is approved by Parliament. Pending this, those previously eligible to receive such residence permits should be able to do so under the old provision.

The Greek authorities have taken some positive steps to address racist violence, including by prosecuting those responsible for some attacks and creating a special prosecutor and special police units. But until undocumented migrants have the confidence to report attacks to the police without fear of ending up detained or deported, their attackers will have a license to continue their crimes.