UNHCR’s Findings on Increase of Racist Attacks in Greece

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Below is the official press release issued by the Greek branch of  United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Based on information of several networking groups, UNHCR documented 87 incidents of racist violence against refugees and migrants during the period January-September 2012.

         Racist attack on Greek-Egyptian

A 21-year-old Greek-Egyptian man is left partially blind, after a savage attack he suffered on Friday night (12/10). As he got off the trolley bus at Attiki Square, he was attacked by three-four men dressed in black, who started hitting him on the head with chains while urging their dogs to bite him. They did not stop, even when the young dark-skinned man told them that he is a Greek national. Racist Violence Recording Network Findings (1.1.2012-30.9.2012)

“” It is now commonly accepted that the previous months saw an immense increase in racially motivated violent attacks in Greece. Relevant reports in printed and electronic media reveal that racist attacks have become an almost daily occurrence. According to reports by migrant and refugee organizations, the number of known racist violence incidents does not represent the real extent of this phenomenon in the country.

The  Racist Violence Recording Network, which apart from the UN Refugee Agency and the National Commission for Human Rights, numbers 23  non-governmental organizations and other bodies*, monitors the escalation of racist attacks and, by recording the incidents through the voluntary testimonies of victims, looks into and highlights the quantitative and qualitative trends of racist violence in Greece.

During the period January-September 2012, the Racist Violence Recording Network documented, after interviewing victims, 87 incidents of racist violence against refugees and migrants, of which 83 occurred in public spaces (squares, streets, public transport). The majority of these incidents concerns physical attacks against foreigners while the types of crimes are mainly severe bodily injury (in 50 cases) and assault (bodily injury, in 30 cases). There were also two incidents of property damage and arson against foreigners’ businesses or residences, such as the arson of a hairdressers owned by a Pakistani national in the area of Metamorphosis as well as an attack with improvised explosive devices against a building inhabited by Syrian refugees in the area of Neos Kosmos.

73 incidents occurred in Athens, and in particular in areas of the city centre such as Aghios Panteleimonas, Attica Square, America Square and other areas around Omonoia Square, while 5 incidents were recorded in Patras and 3 in the wider area of Piraeus.

The victims who approached the members of the Network and were recorded consisted of 85 men and 2 women, in their majority 18 to 35 years of age, mainly from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, New Guinea, Pakistan and Somalia. As regards the legal status of the victims, 29 were asylum seekers, 2 were recognized refugees, 7 had residence permits, and 43 held no legal documents or were under deportation status (in 6 cases the victim’s status is unknown).

In 84 out of 87 incidents the victims consider the fact of their being foreigners the reason for the attack; they believe they became targets either because of their colour or due to any other characteristic revealing the fact they were not natives (in the cases of attacks against women both victims believe they were targeted because they wore a hijab). Verbal abuse and threats against foreigners that accompanied the attacks were proof for the victims of the reason for the attacks in the majority of cases.

As regards the perpetrators, and in accordance as always with the victims’ testimonies, they are believed to belong to extremist groups in 48 incidents. In many cases, the victims describe them as acting in an organised manner and in groups (in 85 out of 87 incidents there were more than one perpetrators involved), dressed in black and at times with military trousers, wearing helmets or having their faces covered, while the participation of minors is also recorded in some attacks. The majority of attacks occur after sunset. “Patrols” by motorcyclists dressed in black is described as a common practice; they act as self proclaimed vigilante groups who attack refugees and migrants in the street, in squares or at public bus stops. Members of these groups stop and ask targeted persons about their place of origin and move on to attack them. The victims speak of areas in Athens which have become off limits to them due to the fear of attack. In some cases, the victims or witnesses to the attacks reported that they recognized persons associated to Golden Dawn party among the perpetrators, either because they wore the insignia of the party or because they were seen participating in public events organized by the party in the area.

The recording of incidents reveals several qualitative evidence regarding the nature of the attacks: the violence of the attacks increases while there is greater tolerance or fear by witnesses who do not intervene to assist victims during the attacks. In many cases victims report the use of weapons, such as clubs, crowbars, folding batons, chains, brass knuckles, knives and broken bottles during the attacks, while the use of large dogs has been repeatedly reported in the area of Aghios Panteleimonas and Attica square. The victims suffer multiple injuries such as fractures, contusions, lesion injuries, abrasions, limited eyesight etc. It is noted that a fatal attack on an Iraqi man in August 2012 was allegedly racially motivated.

There is a distinct category of 15 incidents where police and racist violence are interlinked. These incidents concern duty officers who resort to illegal acts and violent practices while carrying out routine checks. There are also instances where people were brought to police stations, were detained and maltreated for a few hours, as well as cases where legal documents were destroyed during these operations.

Only 11 victims have addressed the competent authorities to file an official complaint and initiate judicial procedures, while 14 would like to do so. The rest do not wish to take further actions either because they lack legal documents and are therefore afraid that they will be arrested to be deported or because they believe that they will find no justice. Those lacking legal papers, even they who would like to report the attacks to the authorities, are immediately arrested upon arrival at the police station with a view to be deported, and as a consequence they are deterred from reporting any racist attack against them. In effect, rather than being dealt with by the police as possible victims of a crime, the authorities prioritize control of the victim’s legal residence in the country and thus abstain from their duty to investigate the reported incident. In addition, during judicial procedures against the perpetrator, persons without legal documents are dissuaded from participating in the process since they are again threatened with arrest and deportation. In 22 cases the victims of racist attacks said that they tried to report the incidents to the police but were faced with unwillingness or deterrence and, in some cases, the actual refusal of the police authorities to respond.

Conclusions:

Already from the first pilot program recording the attacks, the Racist Violence Recording Network found that the results were exceptionally alarming, while mounting concern derives from the fact that the incidents recorded from the Network’s members are only the tip of the iceberg. The geographically limited range of the participating organizations, the spreading fear amongst the victims which often prevents them from approaching even the organizations where they could report the incidents anonymously, but also the inability of organizations to provide effective protection to the victims, are significant factors indicating that the number of racist violence attacks recorded by the Network is much smaller that the real one. This conclusion is also drawn from the frequent publication of incidents in areas other than the ones covered by the participating bodies, something that reveals the spreading of racist violence.

Despite relevant criticism by the Racist Violence Recording Network, as well as by other national and European organizations, which have repeatedly called on the Greek state to take immediate measures for the control of racist attacks, it is particularly disconcerting to find no effective response. It is telling that no perpetrator of a violent racist attack has been sentenced until today. The Minister of Justice admitted that the number of racist violence cases prosecuted is minimum, while there is great discrepancy between the evidence provided by the authorities about racist violence crimes and that provided by other sources.

The main problem rests with the inability or unwillingness of the criminal investigation authorities to record racist violence incidents, to investigate the cases thoroughly and to arrest the perpetrators, or, at times, with the practice of deterring the victims of the attacks who do not have legal residence papers from reporting racist violence incidents to the police. The effective response to the problem of racist violence presupposes the ability of the victims themselves to go to the police authorities and report the acts against them, without the fear of being affected so negatively as to be dissuaded from reporting crimes against them. The public interest to prοsecute and respond to acts of criminal violence should take priority over the public interest to control those who remain irregularly in the country. “”

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