Nicholas Paphitis, Seattle Times, May 13, 2011
Government officials appealed for calm Friday after three days of attacks by ultranationalist mobs on dark-skinned foreigners in Athens, sparked by the fatal mugging of a Greek man in the capital’s crime-infested center.
The public order minister, Christos Papoutsis, said there was a “very high risk of hate crimes” amid rising social tension, and promised future action to address inner-city crime.
Greece is in the throes of a major financial crisis. It is also the main gateway to the European Union for tens of thousands of illegal migrants from Asia and Africa that have transformed the capital’s ethnic makeup by moving into depressed central neighborhoods. The influx has helped fuel a nationalist backlash that reached a climax this week.
Greece’s Pakistani community says more than 100 Asian and African immigrants were attacked Thursday by rampaging youths protesting the mugging, in a march organised by residents of the center that was quickly taken over by ultranationalists.
Several hundred youths, dressed in black and some wielding bats, were involved in the daytime violence, chasing immigrants through narrow streets before punching and kicking them to the ground.
“There were racist attacks before, but Thursday’s events were something else, really terrifying,” Mohammad said. “It all happened very suddenly, we didn’t expect something that extreme.”
“The police were everywhere, but neither did they offer us protection nor did they stop those who were attacking us,” he said. “I have a wife and three children. Should I leave Greece, or stay and maybe get killed?”