- Published on Monday, 27 February 2012 02:15
- Written by Harun
Reza Jholam is a 16-year-old from Afghanistan living in Athens. In October, he was walking home alone when he had the misfortune of crossing paths with a far-right group called "Chryssi Avyi" ("Golden Dawn") terrorising certain neighbourhoods in the Greek capital. Their target: immigrants.
"There were twelve of them. First, someone threw a bottle of water at my back, so I started running. But I couldn't get away," Reza said. "They grabbed me and hit me in the head with a bat. When I was on the ground, they continued to hit me until I was no longer moving."
Reza arrived in Greece last summer after passing through Iran and Turkey. Once in Athens, he was helped by the Afghan Community of Greece, an association that offers immigrants Greek classes and workshops on Greek culture, laws, and customs.
Now, the organisation also informs new arrivals of the risk of racist attacks. "We give them a map of neighbourhoods in Athens where it's best to avoid walking alone," explained the association's president, Yunus Mohammadi.
'Stealing work from Greeks'
Yunus, too, has had run-ins with far-right groups in Greece. A year ago, several men broke into his office, ransacked it and beat him. "Nothing too serious," he said, touching his forehead. Last December, the vice president of the Afghan Community of Greece, Safar Haydary, was also beaten by extremists.
"This type of violence has become a very common phenomenon here, especially since the beginning of the crisis," Yunus said. "Some people accuse us of taking jobs from Greeks and hold us responsible for the security problems here."
Yet another attack on February 16 hospitalised three Bangladeshi immigrants.
"It's getting worse and worse," Yunus said. "The most worrying is that it's spreading throughout the whole city and even around the country. A few days ago, there was a report of a similar attack on one of the Greek islands."
Eva Cossé, a reasearcher at Human Rights Watch, condemns the recent pattern of abuse of immigrants in Greece.
"These attacks mainly target people of colour; few of the victims have been immigrants from Eastern Europe," Ms Cossé explained. "It's an extremely upsetting phenomenon, especially since the authorities are hesitant to admit there's a problem."
Indeed, the police seem to be in no rush to arrest the assailants. In the police station near the neighbourhood of Omonia, where many of the immigrants live and many of the attacks have occurred, officers have said they are afraid that the far-right groups will retaliate if pursued.
56,000 immigrants per year
Until recently, community organisations had managed to protect immigrants from right-wing groups.
"People here are angry, they want to fight against these fascists," Yunus said. "But we need to avoid that, because it's exactly what those who attack us want. That's exactly what they're waiting for to step up the violence."
The situation is so tense that it seems on the verge of exploding at any moment. In a report on the recent attack on immigrants, Ms Cossé warns that "police and lawyers will very soon have to do more than just record testimonies from victims" and that "aggressors will only stop when the police react in a swift and efficient manner and carry out serious investigations."
"The problem is not only the lack of action on the part of Greek authorities. It's much bigger," Yunus noted. "It's a problem of how immigrants are received in Europe."
According to Human Rights Watch, 56,000 immigrants arrive each year in Greece. The country is the main entry point by land for illegal immigrants in Europe, where, via the Greece-Turkey border, nine out of ten illegal immigrants enter the European Union, according to the UN.
The dream of leaving Greece
"Apart from these abominable and overpopulated centres [which were severely criticised in a UN report from October 2011], nothing is done to welcome the immigrants, to explain to them how the country works," Yunus said. "So we take care of them, on our modest scale."
When Reza went to the police station, his face bloodied, he was told that nothing could be done because his visa had expired four days earlier. Nevertheless, an ambulance was called, although the doctors at the hospital did not clean or bandage his wounds.
Reza had only been in Greece for three months.
Today, Reza has recovered, with only a few scars on his forehead. But he dreams of one thing only: leaving Greece as soon as possible.
"I want to go to Norway, but the trip is expensive," he said. "You have to pay the border escort and other people. I'm waiting to save up enough money."
In the meantime, Reza no longer goes out at night alone.