Embroiled in economic crisis, Greece has seen a surge in xenophobic violence against its population of immigrants and asylum seekers, and impunity is endemic. According to Human Rights Watch, attacks against foreigners in Greece are "frighteningly common". Attackers, including women mostly operate at night and police do not have a protection or prevention strategy. No one has been convicted of hate crime under a 2008 hate crime statute.
A newsletter from Human Rights Watch to its supporters on 13 July 2012 highlighted the plight of migrants in Greece and the failure of Greek authorities to tackle a wave of hate and xenophobic violence in the "birthplace of democracy".
The detailed report contains disturbing stories and photographs of victims.
Human Rights Watch found that victims are discouraged from filing complaints and no one has been convicted of hate crime despite evidence of a pattern. Undocumented migrants who are attacked are told by the police that they would be detained if they push for a criminal investigation. Those who persist are told they must pay a fee of €100 to file an official complaint. The economic crisis is rife in Greece and people need money to survive, but demanding €100 from victims of racist and xenophobic crimes to make ends meet is over-the-top and could amount to denial of justice. Many Greeks cannot afford to pay €100 to file a complaint, thoughtless of migrants - many of whom reportedly live in extreme poverty in abandoned buildings, town squares and parks.
Government statistics on xenophobic violence and hate crime are unreliable. The Greek government recorded only two hate crimes in 2009 and only one in 2008. But Human Rights Watch interviewed victims (including two pregnant women) of 51 serious attacks between 2009 and May 2012. A network of 18 non-governmental organizations recorded 63 incidents between October and November 2011in Athens and Patras. Most victims were undocumented migrants and asylum seekers. [Source]
Vigilante gangs of Greeks attack immigrants and asylum seekers with impunity, despite Greece's obligations under national and international law to protect all persons within its borders, including immigrants and asylum seekers from human rights violations. Greece is party to key international agreements such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) which obligate the state to guarantee everyone protection and equal enjoyment of rights without distinction of any kind, including race, color, religion or national origin.
The deep economic crisis in Greece is no excuse for hate and xenophobic violence. Attacks against foreigners would not remedy the sorry-state of Greece's economy. Attacks tarnish the reputation of Greece and further drag the country into social and economic crisis.
Tourism is an important part of the economy of Greece. Hate and xenophobic violence would keep tourists - many of whom are "foreigners" from European and non-European countries - away and further hurt the country's struggling economy.
The government of Greece should act to prevent and punish xenophobic attacks. The European Union (EU) should hold Greece to the same human rights standards it demands from other European and non-European countries. It is a shame that such blatant violation of human rights is happening in the backyard of the EU. Failure of Greece to protect migrants and asylum seekers from abuse is an affront to principles of human dignity, freedom, equality, rule of law and respect for human rights promulgated by the EU and other European bodies like the Council of Europe to which Greece is a member state.
*Photo of twenty-year-old Afghan attacked in Athens on 12 December 2011. Source: Human Rights Watch.
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Born and raised in a middle class family with strong Christian values in Cameroon, Central Africa, I learned quickly that all natural persons are born free and equal in rights. I graduated from the University of Buea with a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree, and received a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree in International Human Rights Law and International Labour Rights from Lund University, Sweden. My passion is in promoting human rights and the rule of law. I'm a married proud daddy of two.