The Greeks are frustrated with the financial crisis currently tearing their country apart, and have begun venting that frustration on African and Asian refugees.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has this week released a damning report on the state of xenophobia, racism and abuse in Greece, spearheaded by Athens cops who regularly conduct abusive stops and searches that mostly target African and Asian residents.
The 52-page report, Unwelcome Guests: Greek Police Abuses of Migrants in Athens, authored by HRW’s Greece specialist Eva Cossé, documents frequent stops of people who appear to be foreigners, unjustified searches of their belongings, insults, and, in some cases, physical abuse.
The anti-immigration campaign is codenamed Xenios Zeus, after the ancient Greek god of hospitality.
“It’s cruelly ironic that the authorities named the sweeps after the ancient Greek god of hospitality,” Cossé was quoted in the report as saying.
“In fact, Operation Xenios Zeus is anything but hospitable to migrants and asylum seekers, who are regularly stopped, searched, and detained just because of the way they look.”
The New York-based rights organisation has deplored the detention of scores of foreigners for hours in police stations pending verification of their legal status.
Between August 2012 when the operation Xenios Zeus began and February 2013, the police forcibly took almost 85 000 foreigners to police stations to verify their immigration status, HRW said.
“No more than six percent were found to be in Greece unlawfully, suggesting the police are casting an extraordinarily wide net. Many of those interviewed had a legal right to be in Greece at the time of the stops because they are asylum seekers, legal foreign residents, or Greeks of foreign origin,” HRW explained.
Many interviewees told HRW investigators that they felt they were stopped because of their physical characteristics and gave disturbing accounts of clear targeting on the basis of race or ethnicity.
Tupac, a 19-year-old Guinean asylum seeker, was quoted as saying in early February police officers forced him and other black and Asian passengers out of a bus in central Athens and shouted: “All blacks out, all blacks out.”
Many observers believe that this racist attitude towards black people or Non-European citizens shows that racism in Europe is far from being eradicated, despite the United Nations’ frequent calls to end such inhumane and cruel practices.
This is not for the first time for xenophobia and racism to rage in Greece. Ordinary Greeks, ruined by years of austerity measures, unemployment and stressful European Union bail-outs, have been seen beating up African and Asian refugees without cops lifting a finger.
Reports from various Greek cities also suggest that some foreign-looking women are being raped and sexually harassed.
Cops, as well as ordinary Greeks, accuse foreigners of ruining their country by bringing in crime, poverty and putting their country’s infrastructure under tremendous pressure.
Concerns about rising crime and urban degradation have become a dominant feature of everyday conversations as well as political discourse, HRW said.
“If the authorities are serious about improving security on the streets of Athens and controlling irregular immigration, they should focus on real criminals and base police operations on evidence and intelligence, not stereotypes,” Cossé said in the report.
Photo: Cops and immigration officials have been accused of aiding ordinary Greeks to attack migrants. Here is one detention centre for migrants. Credit: Migrationinformation.org
Click here to see the full report: “Unwelcome Guests: Greek Police Abuses of Migrants in Athens”.