Ali Rahimi, a 27-year-old Afghan asylum seeker, and two of his friends suffered an attack in 2011 by a large group of people outside an apartment building in the Aghios Panteleimonas neighborhood, in which he was stabbed five times in the torso.

© Zalmai Photography

Ali Rahimi was 27 when it happened. A group approached him and two other Afghans in central Athens, swore at them, and told them to leave Greece. Then they attacked. 

Ali was hit on the head with a bottle and stabbed five times in the chest and back, suffering a lung puncture dangerously close to his heart. The other two Afghan men managed to escape.

Six years on, Ali has finally seen justice done.

The attack happened in 2011, when racially motivated violence by vigilante groups against migrants and asylum seekers in Greece was common, particularly in Athens. Many attacks went unpunished, with police and courts doing little to intervene or hold perpetrators to account.

But in Ali’s case, there was a witness. One of the two Afghans with him identified two of the alleged suspects to the police. Two men and one woman were subsequently arrested and charged with the attack.

It was the first prosecution of its kind in Greece since 1999. The trial started in December 2011, but was beset with problems and was postponed 18 times. The defendants were charged with the lesser offense of inflicting grievous bodily harm, rather than attempted murder.

Ali is now 33. This July, an Athens court finally convicted his attackers. The two men were found guilty of grievous bodily harm, while the woman was convicted of orchestrating and instigating the attack. They were all sentenced to three years imprisonment, suspended for three years – as is standard for such crimes.

During sentencing, the court refused to accept the mitigating circumstances argued for by the defense due to “the seriousness and nature of the act,” a rare move by a Greek court and one which sends a strong signal.

But the problem has not gone away.

Far-right groups have attacked asylum seekers on the island of Chios, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at their tents. In April, two men were arrested and eventually convicted over the incidents. In Athens, a 19-year-old Afghan asylum seeker was beaten and wounded with a knife this month in an apparent hate crime. No one has been arrested.

Holding attackers accountable promptly is the best way to tackle violence. Today’s victims of xenophobic attacks in Greece cannot wait six years for justice, like Ali did.