Did Greece’s 21st century Fascists leave this African immigrant scarred for life just because of the colour his skin?
- Many face daily racist attacks, police apathy and a system that punishes them rather than their assailants
- Hassan Mekki – a 32-year-old Sudanese migrant – was left with large gashes resembling an ‘X’ across his back following an attack
By Anthony Bond
It is a country which has been left on its knees, fuelling anger and resentment among its people.
Almost nobody in Greece has been left untouched by the devastating economic crisis.
But it is the country’s migrants who now appear to have become the biggest victims of this troubling period in Greek history.
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Horrific: Migrants living in Greece have become the biggest and most defenceless of victims of the country’s economic crisis. Hassan Mekki, a 32-year-old Sudanese migrant, shows scars on his back following an attack against him
Injured: Mr Mekki says he was attacked by a group of men holding Greek flags and left with the deep wounds on his back, throat and neck in August
Many face daily racist attacks, police apathy and a system that punishes them rather than their assailants.
Hassan Mekki, a 32-year-old Sudanese migrant who fled conflict in his country in hope of a better life in Europe – has been left fearing for his life.
In August, he and a friend were walking in Athens when black-shirted men on motorcycles holding Greek flags came up and knocked him unconscious with a blow to the head, he said.
When he came to, he was covered in blood. Only later would he realise that his attackers, whom he says were likely tied to the far-right Golden Dawn party, had left large gashes resembling an ‘X’ across his back.
‘I don’t have the right papers, so I can’t go anywhere to ask for help,’ Mekki said. ‘I can’t sleep. I’m scared, maybe they will follow me, and my life is in danger now.
Tapping into resentment towards illegal immigrants, Golden Dawn emerged from obscurity to enter parliament this year pledging to kick all immigrants out. The fast-rising party, which has been linked to racist attacks, denies it is neo-Nazi.
Grim: Only later did he realise his attackers, which he says were likely tied to the far-right Golden Dawn party, had left large gashes resembling an ‘X’ across his back
Divided country: Mr Mekki shows a scar on his neck . Many migrants face daily racist attacks, police apathy and a system that punishes them rather than their assailants
In the latest criticism of Greece’s handling of migrants, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on migrants’ rights condemned Greece for doing little to curb rising racist attacks.
Much of the violence went unreported because victims were afraid of deportation if they went to the police, who were sometimes involved in the attacks, Francois Crepeau said.
A major gateway for Asian and African immigrants trying to enter Europe through its porous borders, Greece has long struggled with illegal immigration.
In the last few years, the problem has exploded into a full-blown crisis as Greece sank into a deep recession, leaving one in four jobless and hardening attitudes towards migrants who were blamed for a rise in crime.
Ill equipped at the best of times to deal with the hordes of immigrants crossing its border with Turkey or arriving in plastic boats, Greece now finds itself grappling with a rising number of migrants when it can barely keep itself afloat.
Stepped-up border patrols this year have stemmed the flow only slightly – in the first 10 months of the year, over 70,000 illegal migrants were arrested for crossing into Greece, down from about 82,000 in that period last year.
Many often find shocking conditions at detention centres with food shortages, no hot water or heating and open hostility from Greeks embittered by years of austerity, Crepeau and other rights groups say.
Egyptian immigrant Waleed Taleb is another victim. He says demanding his unpaid wages in Greece came at a heavy price; 18 hours chained and beaten by his boss, a stint in jail and orders to leave the country he calls home.
Shocking: The economic crisis has seen riots on the streets of Greece. In this picture, a riot policeman is on fire from a petrol bomb thrown by protesters
One of hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who toil in Greece’s black labour market, Taleb had just finished cleaning the bakery where he worked one November morning on the island of Salamina when he sparked his boss’s fury.
The baker and two others fastened an 8-metre long metal chain around Taleb’s neck with a lock and dragged him to a stable, he said, where another man joined them. There they tied him to a chair, tightened the noose and punched him while he drifted in and out of consciousness, he said.
The men drank beer – which they also forced into Taleb’s mouth – and taunted him for being a Muslim, he said.
‘They dragged me around like a dog,’ said Taleb, recounting the attack from a mattress on the floor of his dingy apartment tucked away amid Salamina’s low-roofed houses and tavernas.
‘I thought this was the end for me. I kept fainting, and every time I fainted they would hit me with rods to wake me up.’
After 18 hours, Taleb managed to escape when his captors left to reopen the bakery. But his nightmare was not over.
Found at dawn under a tree with the heavy chain still around his neck and his face swollen beyond recognition, Taleb was initially taken to a hospital and given first aid.
But police later whisked him away to detain him on the charge that he lacked documents to live in Greece – though he says he complained he could barely walk and was in pain.
Fighting: Protestors clash with riot police during an anti-austerity protest
‘Everyone could see I was suffering. I couldn’t even see, and I couldn’t eat,’ says Taleb, 29. A month later he has a neck brace, an arm bandage and can only eat semi-solid food.
‘I thought I would die. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t have papers; the problem was that I had been beaten.’
Calling his ordeal one of ‘striking brutality’, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said his case followed a pattern in which migrants are ‘immediately arrested with the view to be deported’ when they go to police to report an attack.
After an outcry over the case – including condemnation by the Egyptian embassy and a protest by other Egyptians – Greece’s public order minister on Tuesday said Taleb would not be deported due to ‘humanitarian reasons’. But rights groups said it was not clear how long he would be allowed to stay.
Taleb says he spent four days in two detention centres and was given documents telling him to leave Greece in 30 days, while his boss was released after three days pending trial.
The baker, a former deputy mayor in Salamina, admitted to beating Taleb – but not brutally – and accuses him of stealing 13,000 euros that Taleb says is his money, police said.
The other men Taleb accused were charged but are free pending trial since police failed to arrest them in the required 24-hour window after the crime.
‘There was a phone in prison, and when I called other people, they told me my boss had already been released,’ he said. ‘They hit me, robbed me and then everyone was out of jail except me.’
Indeed, the lack of any convictions in Greece over racist attacks has allowed migrants to be targeted with impunity, said Nikitas Kanakis, head of Doctors of the World in Greece.
‘The state should apologise to a man found under a tree in chains. We treated him like a dog – that’s bad enough,’ Kanakis said, attacking the move to detain Taleb after his ordeal.
‘If we don’t convict any of these people nothing will change. Then everyone feels that they can get away with it.’
Police officials defended their actions by saying Taleb was pulled out of hospital only after they were given the go-ahead by doctors and that Greek law required the detention of illegal immigrants.
A Greek police spokesman declined to comment beyond the statement by the minister saying Taleb’s deportation had been suspended.
Taleb and others in the Egyptian community say his injuries were serious enough for him to be sent back to hospital for a week after his four days in detention were over.
Two Greek immigration lawyers said Taleb was lucky to be given 30 days to leave – many others are often given just seven days to get out of Greece.
Greek officials say the root of the problem with the country’s migrants is the so-called Dublin II treaty, which deems asylum seekers to be the responsibility of the country where they entered Europe and thus puts a heavier burden on border states like Greece.
Greek governments have repeatedly asked for the treaty to be repealed, to no avail, and the U.N.’s Crepeau also said Europe needed to do more to help Greece with the flow of migrants.
VIDEO: UN report on migrant conditions in Greece:
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