Greek xenophobia on the
rise By Apostolis Fotiadis
ATHENS - Last January, several pupils
coming out of a high school in Kallithea, a
central residential neighborhood in Athens,
attacked a Pakistani passer-by.
of the assault alarmed Maria Daneil and Artemis
Kalofuri, as well as other teachers in schools
around the area, who consider this to be just the
latest in a sequence of racially charged
confrontations in Greece's economically fraught
"There has been a
deteriorating picture including anti-migrant
attacks, the attack on a makeshift mosque,
harassment of students, as well as the appearance
of people flaunting neo-Nazi paraphernalia around
the schools. We felt that passive
observation is not
effective anymore, we had to do something,"
Kalofuri told IPS.
With support from the
local branch of the association of teachers
(ELME), the educators formed a student discussion
group, where questions on migration, racism and
fascism, as well as current social issues arising
from those problems, could be raised and analyzed
by pupils themselves.
"Between 60 or 70 people showed up the third time
Daneil believes the attack is
further complicated by the fact that the
assailants were mostly second-generation migrants
"It is socially complicated,"
she says, "but the pattern involves the
radicalization of isolated or less wealthy kids,
with family issues, that at some point come in
contact with radical nationalist groups."
Both teachers mentioned links between a
very small number of pupils and radical
nationalist groups as well as the establishment of
a culture of fear and silence regarding the issue.
Fear, particularly, is what Yunus
Mohammedi, residing in Greece for over 10 years,
has begun to notice among his fellow Athenians, as
public aggression has almost become a daily issue.
In order to alert people, Mohammedi
circulated a map of Athens, marking in red the
zones where most violent incidents take place.
"This is how we used to warn people about the
places they ought to avoid in Afghanistan when I
worked here for Doctors Without Borders," he
recalled to IPS.
"We explain to newcomers
as well as people for who have been in Athens for
longer which places to avoid when it gets dark and
advise them not to walk around alone if possible."
A trained pathologist and one of the few
Afghans who speak fluent Greek, Mohammedi has
become a person with whom many Afghans consult
when they are in trouble.
"Ten years ago
things were very different. Back then you had to
worry about having a job and making ends meet. Now
it is dangerous, we often have to care for people
stabbed or violently beaten. I often receive phone
calls from people threatening me for getting
involved," he said.
racial hatred The economic crisis has
altered significantly the social rules between
Greeks and immigrants and asylum seekers, mostly
from Asia and Africa.
Since 2005, Greece
has become the main influx point for undocumented
migrants, with more than 80% entering Europe
coming from Turkey through the Aegean Sea or the
Northeast mainland boundary of the river Evros.
The vast majority of these migrants hope
to move towards Northern Europe. However, clauses
in the United Nations' Dublin II regulations that
dictate the returns of irregular immigrants to the
country they entered have effectively condemned
scores of immigrants to remain stuck in limbo in
This has transformed the country,
and Athens in particular, into a depot of hundreds
of thousand of irregular immigrants and asylum
seekers, who survive on below-subsistence incomes
won in a vast black market.
of the capital have been morphing slowly into
semi-permanent migrant quarters, with the
municipality estimating that in certain central
areas, Greeks number less than 4% of the
Since 2008, the worsening
economic crisis replaced most Greek's passive
understanding of migrant workers' plights with
Eurostat, Greece's economy is retracting at the
alarming rate of 7.5%, while unemployment climbed
to 21 percent last December.
increasing involvement of migrants in violent
thefts and organized criminal activity has
inflated antipathies. Greek police have registered
an increase in the involvement of migrants in
violent crime rates from 24% to 25% in 2000 to
over 65% today.
Lack of employment in the
regular and irregular markets has increased
antagonisms not only between Greeks and foreigners
but also between various migrant groups.
Far-right groups have capitalized on this
situation to increase their popularity and recruit
membership around the run-down areas of the city,
leading to an explosion of anti-migrant rhetoric
and violent attacks against Asian and African
Marianna Tzeferakoy, a lawyer
with the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR), told
IPS, "Many people referring to the GCR for
assistance have reported violent behavior, but
given that no structure for monitoring the
situation is available, we have no picture of the
scale of the problem. We know only that it is
worsening very quickly."
Tzeferaku as well
as Mohammedi have alleged that Greek police
personnel are systematically discouraging migrants
from reporting violent incidents.
Sunderland, a senior researcher at Human Rights
Watch, added that a recently completed
fact-finding mission in Athens supported fears of
a brewing crisis.
"The testimonies we have
collected so far from victims and associations
providing services to migrants and asylum seekers
suggest that the violence has increased
significantly over the last several years,"
Sunderland told IPS.
"We have collected
numerous testimonies indicating that the police
have failed to intervene rapidly or have
discouraged victims from filing official
complaints. We are similarly concerned that the
government has not yet acknowledged the gravity of
the situation. Neither consistent condemnations of
attacks, nor a clear plan of action to prevent
attacks and punish those responsible, have been
Greek police spokesman
Athanasios Kokkalakis, who has opposed these
allegations, told IPS, "Whenever the Greek police
has received a detailed report about incidents
related to racially motivated violence it has
intervened and arrested anyone responsible, even
in cases where the accused have been police
officers themselves," he said.
combination of a relentless migration wave and the
deteriorating economic crisis fueled by austerity
measures is giving birth to complicated social
issues says, Kokkalakis said.
are at the same moment victims and perpetrators of
crime. They arrive in a country in which social
cohesion is challenged and welfare and social
structures that could support them are on the
point of collapse. At the same time they are under
enormous pressure from international trafficking
networks that push more and more of these people
into criminal activity."
Last week, the
United Nations High Commission for Refugees
completed a three-month-long pilot project of
documenting xenophobic aggression.
representative told IPS, "It is early to talk
about specific results, yet it is obvious that a
pattern of violent aggression has started forming
in certain areas of the capital."
the results are examined the agency will try to
put in place a permanent observatory of racial and