“The economic crisis and migration cannot excuse Greece’s failure to tackle violence that is tearing at its social fabric,” said Judith Sunderland, senior Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Despite clear patterns to the violence and evidence that it is increasing, the police have failed to respond effectively to protect victims and hold perpetrators to account, Human Rights Watch found.
Authorities have yet to develop a preventive policing strategy, while victims are discouraged from filing official complaints.
No one has been convicted of a racist attack under a 2008 provision defining racist motivation as an aggravating circumstance in the commission of a crime.
In a country suffering a deep economic crisis, and after years of mismanaged migration and asylum policies, gangs of Greeks attack migrants and asylum seekers in central Athens and elsewhere in the country with frightening regularity, Human Rights Watch said. Most attacks are accompanied by insults and exhortations to leave Greece, and in some cases the attackers also rob the victims.
Human Rights Watch called on the new government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to take immediate steps to counter xenophobic violence, including:
Although police were instructed in a 2006 ministerial circular to pay special attention to racist crimes, victims consistently told Human Rights Watch that the police discouraged them from filing complaints. Those who persist are told they must pay a €100 to file an official complaint. Greece introduced this fee in late 2010 to discourage frivolous complaints.
Since the early 2000s, Greece has become the major gateway into the European Union for undocumented migrants and asylum seekers from Asia and Africa. Nationalist, far right-wing parties such as Golden Dawn have in recent years gained strength and popularity largely because of their exploitation of anti-immigrant sentiment. Golden Dawn secured enough votes in the June 2012 national elections to enter Parliament for the first time. It has won 18 seats (out of 300). Although no known police analysis or court ruling has linked the citizens’ groups or Golden Dawn with groups carrying out violent attacks on migrants and asylum seekers, there is some evidence to suggest that the attackers are members of or associated with these groups.
A monitoring network of nongovernmental organizations coordinated by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees and the independent National Commission for Human Rights recorded 63 incidents between October and December 2011 in Athens and Patras.
“Attacks on migrants and asylum seekers are intended to send a message: you are not wanted here, go away,” Sunderland said. “To stop this violence, the state needs to send an equally powerful message: xenophobic violence has no place in a democratic society, and you will be punished.”