It started as a street phenomenon and it has now entered the schools and the buses
Public transportation and –even worse – schools are the areas where racist violence has moved from the streets, where it was being manifest till today, especially in Athens. Out of 154 attacks that were recorded by the Racist Violence Recording Network, 6 took place in public transport.
It is very telling that in two of these incidents, the perpetrators were civil servants. “A woman of Egyptian origin was attacked verbally by a bus driver who closed the door on her baby’s stroller and a young Afghani was beaten by bus controllers working for the transportation service of the municipality of Athens because he did not present a valid ticket”, the Network said on Wednesday while presenting its annual report about racist attacks in Greece in 2012.
Glyka Nera… Manolada style
Apart from the cases that received much publicity – the 19 year old Iraqi who was murdered in central Athens last August and the 26 year old Pakistani murdered in Petralona – the Network recorded the murder of a 31 year old Egyptian who died after being for 17 days in a coma as a result of having been brutally beaten in Glyka Nera (from his boss, a blacksmith, who did not want to pay the unpaid wages owed to him).
The vast majority of recorded incidents took place in the centre of Athens – and they are only the tip of the iceberg since most victims choose silence because of fear. Even the victims themselves talk about areas in Athens that are real no-go areas due to the fear of attacks: Agios Panteleimonas, Attica Square, Viktoria Square, Kolonos, Metaksourgeio, Kerameikos.
Most victims were men, mostly Afghans and Pakistanis, Algerians, Bangladeshis, Egyptians, etc. All of them were targeted because they were foreigners – and Muslims – while women for wearing headscarves. Indicative of the cowardly actions is the fact that in only 6 out of the 154 attacks the perpetrator acted alone. In the rest of the cases the perpetrators acted in groups – sometimes even ethnically mixed groups, e.g. involving perpetrators Albanian origin.
The general conclusion from the recording of the Network is that the attacks are becoming more violent while there is a growing tolerance or fear from the side of the bystanders that do not intervene to help the victims. The “phenomenon of tolerance demonstrated by an increasingly large portion of the population” was one of the key points of the talk of George Charmbopoulos, head of the Greek office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, one of the 30 organizations participating in the network.
Vasilis Papastergiou, the legal representative of the Network, hailed the establishment of offices in the Greek Police for the tackling of racist violence. However, he expressed some worries regarding their effectiveness. These offices have not yet shown any work – at the same time racist attacks occur daily, often perpetrated by policemen and even taking place in police departments. Mr. Papastergiou expressed doubts about whether the “two-day seminar” that policemen had to attend was sufficient.
“Those that have hostile attitudes towards the purpose of the service should be excluded from its staffing”, he added. As an example indicative of this issue we can take the statement of one of the policemen, member of staff in the office for racist violence who said that he hopes his service will show that what is said about racist violence in Greece is “propaganda”.
After the complaint comes the deportation!
Mr Papastergiou repeated the Network’s plea towards the Greek state for enabling immigrants to make complaints as victims or witnesses. The way things work now, the Police, instead of investigating the incident, arrest the complainant because he does not have papers and arranges his deportation. “At the moment, the state treats the misdemeanor of illegal entering the country as heavier than other felonies”.
He noted that, according to the law, a stay permit should be provided till the case’s trial ends in the public interest – this was followed in the case of the Manolada victims. However, “the public interest is something open to interpretation and it covers only emblematic events, like the one in Manolada. The Network suggests that the suspension of the deportation and detention of victims or witnesses involved in a complaint should be made explicit and also combined with a stay permit for humanitarian reasons”, he said.
The spectrum of racist violence.
“For policemen, racist violence is seen as something normal, even for those who are not directly involved”, according to Kostis Papaioannou, President of the National Committee for the rights of Man, one of the thirty organizations of the Network. He added that the spectrum of racist crime was broadened: “from the immigrants it expanded against minorities, Roma people, left-wingers, individuals working in humanitarian organizations…” and that school bullying has now become connected with racist violence.
Mr Papaioannou suggested that we should become more careful with public discourse and that statements like the one of the Prime Minister Antonis Samaras about “reoccupying the center of Athens” foment violence. “Public opinion has become more sensitized to the issue of racist crime, but the same cannot be said about the authorities” he said, referring to The Minister of Public Order Nikos Dendias, whose first reaction to the request for stay permits for the victims was to say: “We are not going to start a special industry for letting illegal immigrants in the country”. Despite of this, at the end he provided the permit, but only after Greece became the center of attention internationally because of the particular incident.
Reza Golami, President of the Afghan immigrants in Greece referred to yesterday’s incident (a generally common type of incident): “A refugee was stopped by the police for a check; the policemen took his papers and beat him. The situation is very serious. Many fear to get out of the house out of fear of the Police and racism. We are no longer worried about getting sworn at; we are only worried about the possibility of getting beaten”.
[Article translated from ‘to Vima’ newspaper, 24/04/2013, found online at: http://www.tovima.gr/society/article/?aid=509601.
You can find the full annual report of the Racist Violence Recording Network here: http://www.unhcr.gr/1againstracism/2012-annual-report-of-the-racist-violence-recording-network/]