Greece, as you’re most likely aware, is in economic turmoil*. When the global recession hit in 2009, the Greek economy took a nose dive and the country’s debt began piling up. Today, The country’s unemployment rate sits at a staggering 23.1 percent. For comparison’s sake, note that we are currently experiencing (and panicking over) 8.1 percent unemployment in the States. Imagine the unease created by an unemployment rate that is nearly three times as high.
On top of exploding national debt and unemployment, Greece also faces an exploding immigrant population. In fact, nearly 10 percent of the country’s population is immigrants, putting a strain on Greece’s already strained social and governmental services.
Some in Greece equate the influx of immigrants with “rising crime and urban degradation,” especially in urban areas like Athens. The response to rising immigration rates has occurred on both a governmental level–with increasing government crackdown on illegal immigration–and a societal level, with an increased rate of xenophobically motivated violent attacks.
In fact, these attacks have become so common that they are now woven into the cultural identity of immigrants in Greece. A July 18, 2012 post from Global Public Square lamented that “violence has become such a part of daily life for migrants and asylum seekers in Greece that an Afghan community festival in May included a skit about a man being brutally beaten in a park by Greek racists.”
Many activist groups have called for state intervention to prevent xenophobic violence from escalating further, including Human Rights Watch (as previously mentioned) and Amnesty International.
Some Greek conservatives view xenophobia is a natural response to immigration influx. Antonis Samaras, former foreign minister and current conservative government leader, called illegal immigration a form of “unarmed invasion,” saying that deportation “will send the message to those seeking to come to forget about it. And to those already here, to leave voluntarily.”
Something must be done to relieve tensions between native Greeks and immigrants before the situation further deteriorates. Watchdog agencies of the EU and other international organizations should monitor the situation to insure that cases of ethnic violence are properly reported and prosecuted and that the government’s immigration crackdowns do not threaten human rights.
Check back in the next few weeks for an examination of Golden Dawn, a neo-fascist party gaining political power in Greece.
*Explaining the economic crisis in full requires much more than a single blog post. If you’re interested in learning more, The BBC has an excellent primer on the subject.