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In debt-plagued Greece, immigrants feel the heat March 28, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Human rights abuses.
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Although ultra-right groups have been responsible for fanning anti-immigrant feeling in the economically distressed country, the influx of foreigners is increasingly resented by moderate citizens too.

March 16, 2010|By Henry Chu
Reporting from Athens — Ancient Greece gave the world the word “xenophobia.” Modern Greece is providing examples of it.

Hamad Amiri, a young Afghan immigrant, arrived to work at his brother’s cellphone store in Athens on a recent morning only to find that someone had gummed up the lock overnight. Scrawled in yellow paint on the shop’s metal screen were the words “Foreigners Out,” accompanied by the insignia of a far-right organization known as Golden Dawn.

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A few months before that, a group of tough-looking young men barged into the shop one evening and ordered Amiri to close up for the night. Not the Greek-owned businesses in the area, said Amiri, 22; just theirs. “They said, ‘If you don’t close, we’ll break everything.’ We were scared,” he recalled. “What else could I do?”

Amiri’s experiences are the result of a swelling tide of anti-immigrant feeling in this debt-plagued Mediterranean country.

Until about 20 years ago, Greek society was fairly homogeneous, bound by language, religion and a shared history extending thousands of years to the beginnings of Western civilization. But the nation’s face has changed dramatically in recent years. Immigrants, both legal and illegal, now account for as much as 15% of Greece’s population of 11 million, according to unofficial estimates.

To walk down some streets of Athens today is to hear snatches of conversation in Polish, Romanian, Russian, Arabic, Urdu and Bengali in the shadow of the magnificent ruins of the Parthenon.

Many of the newcomers arrived in search of refuge from political upheaval, starting with the Albanians who poured across the border by the thousands in the early 1990s to escape the death throes of communist rule in their homeland. More recently, Iraqis, Pakistanis and Afghans have found in Greece a haven from the ravages of war.

But the influx has fanned anger and fear not only among the avowed chauvinists of the far right, but increasingly among more moderate Greeks who view the strangers in their midst as importers of crime, squalor and distasteful habits.

Then too, the government is “at least 10 years behind other European countries” in establishing a legal infrastructure for dealing with the explosion in immigration, said Tzanetos Antypas, the head of Praksis, a rights organization here in the Greek capital.

Now, as Greece enters a period of painful economic retrenchment to alleviate its staggering debt crisis, Antypas fears the backlash against the country’s newest arrivals will only get worse.

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