A briefing paper published by Amnesty International last week drew attention to the dire situation affecting refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in Greece. The paper, entitled, ‘Greece: the end of the road for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants’, documents the obstacles that many migrants face once they arrive in Greece. A number of the cases and evidence which the report draws on relate to migrants arriving from Muslim countries such as Syria and Pakistan, and the report explicitly points to a “dramatic increase in the number of racist attacks by members of extreme right wing groups”.
Some of the key points in the briefing are summarised below:
Arriving in Greece- Many of those that reached Greece by sea in 2012 were fleeing the conflict in Syria, including many families with small children. However the report states that “despite this, the new arrivals were – and continue to be – detained in police stations in overcrowded, often unhygienic, conditions or provided with no shelter at all.” The report points to one case in June 2012 where a boat carrying seven Syrians was deliberately sunk by a Greek police boat, leaving people to swim to the Turkish shore.
Detention- Amnesty International highlights how in one detention centre where asylum seekers have gone on hunger strike over alleged ill-treatment and poor detention conditions, a riot broke out in November which was “reportedly sparked by the tearing of a Koran by police guards”.
Racist attacks- The report emphasises that since 2010, “asylum-seekers, refugees and irregular migrants, as well as the unofficial mosques, shops and community centres they have developed, have been targeted in racially-motivated attacks,” and that there has been “a dramatic rise in the number of attacks throughout 2012”. A rise in xenophobia and far-right sentiment, is an important factor in the increase in the rise in racist attacks. The report notes the election to parliament this year of 18 members of the ‘aggressively anti-immigrant’ Golden Dawn party.
The report expresses concern that there is a lack of willingness to report such incidents, particularly when irregular migrants are themselves vulnerable to arrest and detention. This has led to a “climate of impunity for the perpetrators of such attacks”. One example given in the report is an attack on a barbershop ran by a Pakistani man. Following a police investigation into the attack, police arrested one man who worked in the shop and another man who was present during the attack. Neither of the men had documents. There were however, “no reports of arrests of those responsible for the attacks”.
Statistics from one organisation found that of 87 recorded incidents of racist violence between January-September 2012, “more than half … were connected with extremist groups that acted in an organized and planned manner”, including those associated with Golden Dawn.
The report concludes that although there is a burden on Greece caused by migration particularly given the economic crisis, “this cannot excuse the impediments that deny people their rights, the xenophobic rhetoric, or the racist attacks.” It recommends that Greece uphold its obligations under international and EU law to protect and respect the rights of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. It explicitly states that Greece must “Combat the increase in racial discrimination and related violence, including by publicly condemning all such intolerance, and by prosecuting and punishing the perpetrators of such acts.”
Concerns over a rise in racism in Greece have been raised by public figures and NGOs across Europe. The popularity and electoral success of the far right in Greece is particularly worrying, but sadly is only one of the more extreme cases in a pattern that has emerged across Europe, particularly in a climate of increasing economic difficulty. The targeting of asylum seekers, refugees and other irregular migrants is disturbing given the already-vulnerable situation which such communities face.
The lack of public importance that has been attached to the issue is also of serious concern. For example, a report recently published on hate crimes in the OSCE region drew attention to racist and anti-Muslim crimes in Greece; however no official data was given for either. This is surprising given the scale of the issue in Greece over the past few years. In another shocking illustration of the lack of seriousness, or even impunity, with which racism is dealt with in Greece, a report published this year by the Institute of Race Relations noted that there has been just one prosecution for racially motivated crime since 1999.
The full report by Amnesty International is available to download here.