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June 26, 2020

The thorn in our side: racially-motivated violence in Greece

Attacks on refugees, attacks on the LGBTQI community, police officers as aggressors. This year, the findings of an annual report by the Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN) are, once again, concerning.

Edited by Iliana Papangeli
Translated by Gigi Papoulias

 

On March 22, 2019, an interpreter employed by the Greek Council for Refugees was injured when he was physically attacked by a group of men wielding sharp objects. A year earlier, on March 23, 2018, explosive gas canisters were left in the offices of the Afghan community center in downtown Athens.

An attack that made the racist organization “Krypteia” more widely known throughout Greece, occurred on November 3, 2017, when members threw stones and bottles at the home of Amir, a young Afghan student who had been chosen to be flag bearer at the school parade to celebrate the 28th of October national holiday.

On June 24, 2020, the organization was brought to trial in an Athenian courtroom, and the man who is said to be the founder of the group stood as the accused. He faces charges of criminal acts committed between 2017 and 2019, which include: attempted arson, dangerous bodily harm and grievous bodily harm, damage to private property, making persistent threats, public incitement of violence and hatred. The offenses are presented, along with accounts of aggravating circumstances, under Article 82a of the Penal Code for racist crimes, and Law 927/1979 on public incitement of violence or hate.

However, according to the findings of the recently-published report on racist violence in 2019, these are not the only examples of racist attacks.

100 incidents of racist violence in 2019

He was near Omonia Square when three men, wearing T-shirts with large red flags and black crosses, attacked him.

When describing the attack, he paused and said, “I was literally trampled on. They shouted ‘black’ in Greek,” and he felt they were swearing at him as if “I was a problem for Greece.”

 

Made with Flourish

In another case, a minor refugee was at a football stadium in the evening, in a city in western Greece, where he played with his friends almost daily. While they were playing, “suddenly a group of men appeared, wearing hoods and holding bats.” The men attacked them.

The two attacks are among a total of 100 incidents recorded by RVRN in its 2019 annual report.

This was RVRN’s ninth annual report, and participating organizations included 47 NGOs, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees; the National Commission on Human Rights (as coordinators); the Citizen’s Advocate and Immigration Integration Council of the Municipality of Athens (as observers). The annual report was presented online, (due to the preventive measures against COVID-19), on June 16, 2020.

The report reveals an increasing trend in incidents of daily racist violence, a rise in incidents of individual perpetrators (without, however, attacks by organized groups declining), and, for another year, incidents involving government officials as perpetrators, either officers in uniform or public officials.

The report also highlighted the increase in attacks on members of the LGBTQI community compared to the previous year, and expressed “serious concern” about a new circumstance in 2019: “an increased atmosphere of tension against human rights defenders” due to their connection to refugees and immigrants, or the LGBTQI community.

As reported, the growing targeting of humanitarian organizations which are active with the two community groups is said to be linked to both the spread of racist rhetoric in public and the absence of a framework to protect organizations.

Attacks on refugees, immigrants and the LGBTQI community

In 51 of the 100 incidents recorded through interviews with victims between January and December 2019 (117 in 2018 and 102 in 2017), the victims were immigrants, refugees, or asylum seekers (74 in 2018 and 34 in 2017). The second category of victims are members of the LGBTQI community, where 44 cases of attacks were recorded (27 in 2018 and 47 2017).

In three cases, Jewish and Muslim holy sites were targeted, while in two cases, Greek citizens were targeted due to foreign nationality or ethnic origin.

As for the type of incidents recorded, there were 42 cases of bodily harm, 40 cases involved threats or insults, six cases of verbal abuse or other harassment, three cases of incest, two cases of rape, and one homicide.

About one in three incidents (35) occurred in public (on the street, in a square, etc.). Nine incidents occurred at the home of either the victim or the perpetrator, and eight took place in public services (ministries, hospitals, courts, KEP).

Five incidents occurred at Reception and Identification Centers on the Aegean islands and in Evros, and four more incidents took place at accommodation facilities.

Sudden but organized attacks

As for the perpetrators and how they carried out attacks, the report points to a “recurring pattern of a ‘surprise’ but organized attack”.

This means that, as in the cases we have mentioned, often the incidents are not random events which break out spontaneously. On the contrary, the perpetrators appear to have planned their actions in advance, as their faces were covered and they carried improvised weapons.

As for the origin of the victims, as in the 2018 report, the majority are Afghan (18 people), followed by Syrian (5), Cameroonian (5), Congolese (3), Turkish (3), Pakistani (3) and Palestinian (1).

In the previous year, 2018, RVRN recorded a wider targeting of individuals from African countries compared to previous years.

Aggression as a basic part of everyday life

Of course, one should not be deceived: the real incidents, which are recorded throughout the country, are in no way limited to the attacks recorded by RVRN.

“The methodology and the way of recording are not problematic; the fact is that more people feel that they cannot find justice through the procedures. Or, the fact that they, as victims, will become further exposed, let’s not forget that this is a traumatic experience, and the fact that they will be exposed does not preclude that they will be justified,” Christos Lazaridis, communication officer for the Greek Forum of Refugees, and founding member of RVRN, told Solomon MAG.

While the perpetrators carry out their attacks, believing that they will go unpunished, the victim, according to the report, both in 2019 and in previous years, “seems to be assimilating to targeted aggression as an basic part of his daily life.”

This is another reason why victims often do not report attacks. Another issue that is often encountered is “everyday” racism: attacks (mostly “low intensity”) which victims may experience at public service offices, on the bus, in the hospital, etc.

Lazaridis recalls one such incident: “I was at the hospital one day. There, an elderly man was accompanying a refugee, and as you can understand, it was very difficult to communicate with the staff there. So, the doctor said ‘I can’t take care of him, because now things have changed and we can’t handle all those people here’.”

This incident occurred at the time when the AMKA (health services) for refugees and asylum seekers was stopped. “The words ‘those people’ and the behavior that accompanied this overall attitude was flagrantly apparent. However, this doesn’t mean that this kind of discriminatory attitude is the norm at hospitals, on the contrary,” Lazaridis notes.

“I am not in a position to say whether low-intensity attacks that refugees experience on a daily basis are on the rise, but they are certainly taking place.”

As in the case of the doctor which Lazaridis described, the role of the perpetrator may be a government official. More specifically, citizens were involved in 57 of last year’s 100 incidents.

 

Made with Flourish

However, what’s interesting, even more so than the ten cases where the victims believe that the perpetrators were linked to extremist groups (the offenders wore black clothing, camouflage pants, and flags with fascist symbols) is that in 26 cases the perpetrators were representatives of the state.

In 17 cases the perpetrators were officers in uniform and in nine cases they were public officials – this confirms, especially in the cases involving officers in uniform, an upward trend in recent years. In 2018 the number of cases involving officers in uniform was 22, in 2017 ten cases were recorded, and 6 were recorded in 2016.

From downtown Athens to the islands

In 2019, the Greek Forum of Refugees organized a series of empowerment seminars to address racist violence against refugees.

“We are trying to support them, so firstly, they understand what constitutes racist behavior. In the second phase, we want them to be able to stand on their own and deal with it on their own, without reacting to violence with more violence. So, especially in matters that are racially motivated, what we tell our communities is that when that happens, the first thing you have to do is recognize the behavior as racist,” Lazaridis said.

“The goal is not for them to accept racism, but to recognize it, to understand it, and to overcome it.”

Last year, the vast majority of incidents took place in Attiki, usually in areas of central Athens. Across the rest of Greece, five incidents were recorded on Samos, three in Thessaloniki, two incidents in each of the following places: Alexandroupolis, Argos, Konitsa, Ioannina, Lesvos and Leros.

The trend in 2020 seems to have shifted significantly to the Aegean islands, where, during the early months of the year there were several cases of attacks (including physical attacks) against asylum seekers at the accommodation facilities, as well as attacks against NGO workers who provide support to refugees.

As of last March, the Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN) had already expressed its concern about these developments.

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