World
12:12 am
Sun August 12, 2012

Migrants Targeted Amid Rise Of Greek Extremists

Originally published on Sun August 12, 2012 3:27 pm

Ahmet Abuhamed runs a fish shop in Perama, a town near the port of Piraeus. He sells the day's catch, including sea bream, mackerel, sardines and octopus. A 40-year-old father of four, he moved to Greece 20 years ago from Rosetta, an Egyptian fishing village near Alexandria.

"All the fishermen [in Greece] are Egyptian," he says. "Go to any island in the country and listen to the conversations on the boats. You'll hear names like Alim and Mohammad."

Egyptian fishermen have worked in Greece for decades. Abuhamed speaks Greek fluently and has many Greek friends. The country feels like a second home, he says.

In the past two decades, Abuhamed has brought more than 60 relatives and friends to work in Greece.

One of them is Abouzeid Mubarak, a 28-year-old father of three young daughters. He arrived six months ago and shared a one-story house with Abuhamed and three other men.

On a hot night in June, he moved his bed to the roof terrace. A noise woke him around 3 a.m. He pulled down the bedsheet covering his face and saw 20 men in black T-shirts surrounding him.

"I saw some people — young, like me," he says. "They hit me, and then I blacked out."

Hunting Abusers

The men beat Mubarak with wooden bats and iron rods, then tried to break into the house where the rest of the Egyptian fishermen were sleeping.

Another Egyptian, Mustapha Elhersh, found Mubarak.

"There was so much blood on the terrace — so much," says Elhersh, who's 33 and has lived in Greece for 13 years. "I thought he'd never make it to the hospital. I thought he would die."

Mubarak spent weeks recovering. His broken jaw is now wired shut, so he has trouble speaking and eats through a straw.

Police have detained suspects, and police spokesman Christos Manouras says the force makes every effort to investigate such crimes.

Many immigrants can't afford the fee to file police reports, but they are reporting attacks to human rights groups. One Greek organization has recorded more than 300 vigilante attacks since April.

In a recent report, Human Rights Watch also recorded dozens of beatings and stabbings — some in broad daylight, says senior researcher Judith Sunderland.

"I was shocked on a daily basis by the stories that we heard and the suffering that we found," she says. "We had no idea of the scale. It really does appear to be a daily phenomenon."

Influence From Extremist Party

Sunderland and others suspect some of the attackers may be sympathizers of Golden Dawn — an extreme nationalist party that wants, in its own words, to clean Greece of immigrants and land-mine the border with Turkey to prevent more immigrants from crossing. In parliamentary elections in June, the party won 18 seats of 300 in parliament.

Its members recently left fliers at businesses owned by immigrants in the Piraeus suburbs that demanded that the immigrants leave in a month — or else.

Ilias Panagiotaros, a parliamentary deputy for Golden Dawn, dismisses the connection between his party and the attacks.

"Police records show that about 85 percent of all incidents that have to do with attacks are made by illegal immigrants against Greeks," he said. "This is the one and only truth."

Golden Dawn gets traction from accusations like this because Greece is a transit point for more than 80 percent of the undocumented migrants coming into the European Union.

Earlier this month, Greek police arrested more than 1,600 people, saying they had slipped into the country illegally. They were sent to holding centers and will be deported. Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias compared the immigrants to ancient Dorian invaders and said their uncontrolled entry is leading Greece to "social collapse."

Because of EU laws, many migrants get stuck in Athens, where they can't find work. They live in cramped, crumbling apartments or on the streets. Others wait at the port city of Patras to stow away on ferries bound for Italy.

More than a million immigrants live in Greece — about 10 percent of the country's population. About 800,000 live here legally, while more than 350,000 are undocumented.

Many of the newcomers are Muslims from North Africa and Central and South Asia. Some Greeks feel threatened and burdened by them, especially as the debt crisis has destroyed the country's economy, says Jan Egeland, Europe director of Human Rights Watch.

"We see that austerity makes all of the things come out of the shadows," he said. "Migrants and minorities are the first to feel this."

The Egyptian fishermen of Rosetta — who work here legally — are certainly feeling it.

They're alarmed at how unwelcome they suddenly feel in a country that once embraced them.

Abuhamed, the fish shop owner, moved to a new apartment. So has Mubarak, the young fisherman who was almost beaten to death.

Fearing more vigilante attacks, Mubarak and his housemates now sleep with iron rods next to their beds.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

The Greek government detained hundreds of undocumented immigrants in Athens this week and plans to deport them. Police blame them for a rise in crime. But human rights groups say authorities are ignoring a sharp rise in vigilante attacks on the immigrants, including those working legally in Greece. Joanna Kakissis visited a community of Egyptian fishermen who've been shaken by the violence.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Ahmet Abuhamed opens the refrigerator in his fish shop and shows us the day's catch, which includes sea bream, mackerel, sardines and octopus. Ahmet lives near Piraeus, the port city just outside Athens. He moved to here 20 years ago from Rosetta, a fishing village near Alexandria, Egypt. Egyptian fishermen have worked in Greece for decades, he says.

AHMET ABUHAMED: (Through Translator) All the fishermen here are Egyptian. Go to any island in the country and listen to the conversations on the boats. You'll hear names like Alim and Mohammad.

KAKISSIS: Greece feels like a second home to Ahmet. He speaks the language fluently and has many Greek friends. In the last two decades, Ahmet has brought more than 60 relatives and friends to work in Greece. One of them is Abouzeid Mubarak, a 28-year-old father of three. He arrived six months ago and shared a one-story house with Ahmet and three other fishermen.

On a hot night in June, he moved his bed to the roof terrace. At around 3 A.M., he heard a noise and woke up.

ABOUZEID MUBARAK: (Through Translator) I saw some people, young, like me. They hit me and then I blacked out.

KAKISSIS: The men beat Abouzeid with wooden bats and iron rods and also tried to attack the other fishermen. Abouzeid spent weeks recovering. He now struggles to speak through a broken jaw that's wired shut. Police have detained suspects, and a spokesman says the force makes every effort to investigate such crimes. But many immigrants can't afford a 100 euro fee to file a police report. Immigrants are reporting attacks to human rights groups. One Greek organization has recorded 300 vigilante attacks since April.

Human Rights Watch has also documented dozens of beatings and stabbings. Here's senior researcher Judith Sunderland.

JUDITH SUNDERLAND: I was shocked on a daily basis by the stories that we heard and the suffering that we found. We had no idea of the scale.

KAKISSIS: So who are the attackers? Sunderland and others suspect some may be sympathizers of Golden Dawn, an extreme nationalist party that wants, in its own words, to clean Greece of immigrants. In recent elections, the party won 18 seats of 300 in parliament. On recent afternoon in the town of Corinth, Golden Dawn members in black T-shirts handed out rice, potatoes and olive oil to Greek citizens.

They also lined up to give blood for a Greek-only blood bank. Ilias Panagiotaros, a parliamentary deputy for Golden Dawn, dismisses the connection between his party and the attacks.

ILIAS PANAGIOTAROS: Police records show that we have about 85 percent of all incidents that have to do with attacks are made by illegal immigrants against Greeks. This is the one and only truth.

KAKISSIS: Golden Dawn gets traction from accusations like this because Greece is a transit point for more than 80 percent of the undocumented migrants coming into the European Union. Many are Muslims from North Africa and South Asia. Some Greeks feel threatened and burdened by them, especially because of the economic crisis, says Jan Egeland of Human Rights Watch.

JAN EGELAND: We see that austerity makes all of the things come out of the shadows that thrive when there is austerity. And migrants and minorities are the first to feel this.

KAKISSIS: The Egyptian fishermen of Rosetta, who work here legally, are certainly feeling it. They're alarmed at how unwelcome they suddenly feel in a country that once embraced them. Fearing more vigilante attacks, Abouzeid and his housemates now sleep with iron rods next to their beds. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.