As the Greek government has set aside a bill to increase penalties for racist attacks, the number of assaults against immigrants is continuing unabated, people who said they were victims told Agence-France-Presse, including Omar Diallo, who said a beating on an Athens street left him with stitches in his head.
Diallo said he had to vlee Guinea because of violence there but said he was shocked at the level of animosity in Greece toward immigrants.
He said in the Athens neighborhood where he lives – an area full of empty, graffiti-covered shops with “for rent” and “for sale” signs on the windows – it has become increasingly dangerous to be a dark-skinned foreigner. “There are zones where we no longer have the right to go, or where we can only go in groups,” he said.
He said he was alone when attacked, the modus operandi of groups who attack immigrants, including accusations they include members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, which its officials have denied. The party has 18 seats in Parliament.
“Four people got hold of me on the street, one of them hit me with some object on the head. I fell down and they hit me. When they finished, they left,” he said.
Diallo fled his West African home after a September 2009 stadium massacre during an opposition rally. His father was among the 157 killed, while he was thrown in jail. After being released he decided to leave his country where he said he feared for his life.
But just a few years after coming to Athens in search of a better future, he found himself lying in the street, blood dripping from his head, until police officers found him and took him to the hospital, he said. The problem is getting worse, others said.
“I saw a young Pakistani being beaten right in front of me, by two giants, who ran through the whole bus to get to him and then kicked him violently out on the street. I did not interfere because I was scared,” a mortified retired Frenchman, who has been living in Athens for a year, told AFP.
A watchdog group recording racial violence counted 154 victims in 2012, some 107 of whom were assaulted in Athens. In at least eight cases, victims or witnesses said they recognised people associated with neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn. Diallo said the attackers have been embolded because the government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who is also anti-immigrant, has done little to stop them.
According to the report on racial violence, only 24 of the victims made a formal complaint to the police in 2012. “In my understanding, they (perpetrators) try not to kill, but to make visible injuries, so as to spread the fear to the communities,” Doctor Nikitas Kanakis, Secretary General of the Greek branch of the non-governmental group Doctors of the World told AFP.
“Almost every day in various parts of the country, particularly in Athens, racist attacks occur,” said Giorgos Tsabropoulos, head of the UNHCR’s Athens office.
Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias said that a special police unit had been created to deal with racist crimes and “that the people who act unlawfully should end up in prison.”
He said, however, that there is no need for new laws against racism because the rise of Golden Dawn and its xenophobic and racist doctrine was linked to a surge in undocumented migrants arriving in Greece, which he said “are a huge burden to our society”.