Society

Another Greek Tragedy: Stuck In Limbo, Illegal Immigrants Face Neo-Nazi Violence

Once a gateway for illegal immigrants hoping to hop a ferry to Europe, the Greek port of Patras is now a dead end, where refugees must now also face growing hostility from the popular Neo-Nazi political party Golden Dawn.

In Greece, waiting for safe passage northward (UNHCR/Zalmai)
In Greece, waiting for safe passage northward (UNHCR/Zalmai)
Benoît Vitkine


PATRAS – One is dragging his foot, swollen and turning blue. The other shows his dislocated wrist and complains: "How will I work once I'm in Europe?" The third one is hiding, scared. A week ago, all three were attacked by plain-clothed men who assaulted them and shouted racist insults as they were coming back from another attempt to board a ship leaving from Patras Harbor for Italy.

Rachid, Khaled and Rafik don't have the strength for another attempt. The three Algerians squat in the Piraiki Patraiki factory, a huge area of crumbling walls with abandoned shoes and pans. About 1000 Afghan, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and African refugees lived there until they were deported at the end of May.

About 200 meters from here, on May 19, an Afghan migrant stabbed a young Greek man to death during a fight. For three nights, angry locals soon joined by 300 helmeted young men armed with iron bars, besieged the factory. They were Golden Dawn activists – the neo-Nazi party that entered the Greek Parliament after the elections in May – who were brought here by busloads. The police broke up the fighting, and each side went back home with its wounded. Afterwards, the police came back to throw the migrants out.

"Their turn to sweat bullets'

Since then, Patras' thousands of transiting migrants have gone underground, after being driven out from the city center by repeated assaults and obvious hostility. "Before, we were the ones who were scared, but now it's their turn to sweat bullets," rejoices Kostas, a fruit and vegetable vendor. Golden Dawn arrived in town four weeks ago and settled on Germany Street. Since anarchist activists ransacked their offices in March, its door remains closed most of the time.

"Dozens of people immediately joined the party, or other racist groups, as if they were just waiting for this," says Harry, from the Praxis organization, which helps underage migrants. The organization, as well as three others migrant advocacy groups like it, had to stop working after the incidents: social workers, who feel threatened, don't walk around town looking for migrants anymore; in any case, most of them have gone into hiding.

Twenty-three-year-old Soufiane ventures in the city center for the first time in five days. The young man arrived a year and a half ago, and is waiting to embark for France. In the meantime, he takes Greek lessons, provided by Praxis. "It's just in case I have to stay," he explains.

He is not really reassured by his last encounter with "fascists." They asked him if he was Moroccan and then let him go: "First, we are going to deal with the Afghans. Then it's going to be your turn."

To find the Afghans, you need to leave town, and go deep into the tall bush that covers the Gulf of Corinth's dunes. Here, about thirty teenagers are slumped in the shadow of a tarpaulin, next to a roofless building. Half of them came after the Piraiki Patraiki events. Seventeen-year-old Abdullah is the oldest here: he arrived in Greece seven years ago with his older brother, who has since left for Sweden. Each paid 4,000 euros to make the trip from Kabul and across the Evros River, which is the natural border between Greece and Turkey.

The gateway to Europe

In 2011, 57,000 people were stopped by the Greek police and the European Union agency Frontex (which stands for European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union), as they tried to cross this 200-kilometer border. Since Italy and Spain have strengthened border controls, Frontex considers that 90% of illegal immigrants enter the European Union via Greece. Patras is something like the wide side of a funnel: its ferries leaving every day for Italy make it one of the main exit doors of the country.

After the incidents and with the elections, the municipality decided to do some housecleaning. Hundreds of migrants were arrested and sent all over Greece. Nineteen-year-old Ahmed was sent to Athens by bus. He walked all the way back to Patras. According to concurring sources, many buses don't go all the way to Athens: the immigrants are left in the middle of nowhere, relieved of their money and phone. The same sources hint at violent beatings. "When we go to police stations to apply for asylum, we sometimes meet migrants with bruised faces. But no one will tell us what happened to them," Katerina Skilakou, from the Regional Institute for Migrations, points out.

To cope with Athens' sins – there's only one detention center in the capital – and after condemnation from the European Court of Human Rights, several European countries stopped sending migrants back to Greece. The country is unable to deal with the approximately 400,000 illegal immigrants living on its soil – in addition to more than a million legal immigrants, for 11 million inhabitants. Those who receive their deportation order have 30 days to leave the country – but usually just vanish into thin air. Concerning asylum seekers, only a few of them are processed and it can take years to obtain a visa.

A little farther down the beach, we meet 16-year-old Firoz and Bashir, who arrived together from the Afghan province of Kunduz eight months ago. They don't try their luck on the harbor anymore: "It has become impossible to embark on a boat, they have installed cameras and the security guards have become very fierce. We are trapped here!"

As we walk towards the city, beach umbrellas replace the makeshift camps we saw further down the beach. Fred walks between towels, trying to sell the counterfeit watches he bought 5 euros for 7 euros. This Nigerian is an exception: he chose Greece, "the country of culture." He arrived six months ago, and spent four months going from police stations to detention centers. "When I finally left, I was as skinny as skeleton, and I still had no idea what they were on about." While he was in detention, on every scrap of paper or cardboard he could find, Fred wrote songs: "Greece is a wonderful country/Lord, give her the wisdom," he sings softly.

Read the original article in French.

Photo - UNHCR/Zalmai

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A check operation in Indian-administered Kashmir, following a spate of targeted attacks on the region's Hindu minority

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здраво!*

Welcome to Friday, where Joe Biden vows to protect Taiwan from China, Alec Baldwin accidentally kills a cinematographer, and can you guess what day it is TODAY? We also have a report from a researcher in San Diego, USA on the sociological dark side of food trucks.

[*Zdravo - Macedonian]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

Iran-Saudi Arabia rivalry may be set to ease, or get much worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before, writes Persian-language media Kayhan-London:

The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

Kayhan-London

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Biden vows to defend Taiwan: U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would come to Taiwan's defense if it were attacked and had a commitment to defend the island nation that China claims as its own. The White House clarified for the second time in three months that U.S. policy on the subject has not changed, and declined further comment when asked if Biden had misspoken.

• Call on China to respect Uyghurs: A statement from 43 countries denounced China's human rights record at the United Nations over the reported torture and repression of the mostly Muslim Uyghurs, as well as the existence of "re-education camps" in Xinjiang. The declaration calls on Beijing to allow independent observers immediate access. In response, Cuba issued a rival statement shortly afterwards on behalf of 62 other countries claiming "disinformation".

• Alec Baldwin fires prop gun, kills cinematographer: U.S. actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza after discharging a prop gun on the set of his new movie, near Santa Fe. The accident is being investigated.

• Berlusconi acquitted: Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was acquitted of judicial corruption charges. The 85-year-old media mogul had been accused of seeking to bribe guests present at his infamous "Bunga Bunga" parties to lie about the evenings as part of an underage prostitution case.

• COVID health workers death toll: A new WHO working report estimates that between 80,000 and 180,000 health and care workers may have died from COVID-19 between January 2020 and May 2021. The same report also noted that fewer than 1 in 10 healthcare workers were fully vaccinated in Africa, compared with 9 in 10 in high-income countries, and less than 5% of Africa's population have been vaccinated.

• Seven killed in Russian gunpowder factory blast: An explosion at the Elastik gunpowder and chemicals plant southeast of Moscow killed at least seven people, while nine are still missing.

• Aye aye, CAP'n: HAPPY CAPS LOCK DAY, FOLKS!

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Dutch daily De Volkskrant pays tribute to "sound master" and renowned classical conductor Bernard Haitink, who died at 92. Born in Amsterdam, Haitink made more than 450 records and led some of the world's top orchestras in the span of his 65-year career.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

The food truck, a sign that the white and wealthy are moving in

In San Diego, California, researcher Pascale Joassart-Marcelli tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun. In The Conversation she writes:

🥡 In 2016 in City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice). Just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors — who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets — now face heightened harassment.

🤑 Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation. Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure. It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies.

🏙️ My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44. When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

€6.65 million

The remains of "Big John," the world's largest triceratops skeleton ever found, were sold at auction for a European record price of 6.65 millions euros in Paris to a private anonymous collector from the U.S. The 200 pieces of the skeleton were unearthed in 2014 in South Dakota and reassembled by specialists in Italy.

👮🎮  IN OTHER NEWS

Police bust Mexican drug gang recruiting boys via online video games

Police in Mexico have intervened to rescue three minors, aged 11 to 14, from recruitment into a drug gang that had enticed them through online gaming.

A top Mexican police agency official Ricardo Mejía Berdeja, said the gang had contacted the youths in the south-central city of Oaxaca, chatting through a free-to-download game called Free Fire, which involves shooting at rivals with virtual firearms.

Calling himself "Rafael," another player of the same age, the suspected gang member offered one of the youths work "checking radio frequencies and watching out for police presence" in Monterrey, northern Mexico, reported national daily El Heraldo de México. The pay was unusually good — 8,000 pesos (almost $400) every two weeks — and the youth called two friends who also wanted to get in.

The three boys were set to take the bait, but an anonymous Mexican intelligence agent following the exchange while also posing as youth playing Free Fire, ultimately led police to a safe house in Santa Lucía del Camino, outside Oaxaca.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I just want to make China understand that we are not going to step back."

— U.S. President Joe Biden vowed to defend Taiwan if it came under attack from China, an assertion that seems to move away from the U.S. stated policy of "strategic ambiguity." His administration is now facing calls to clarify this stance on the island.

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

Paramilitary soldiers are conducting a check operation in Indian-administered Kashmir, following a spate of targeted attacks on the region's Hindu minority that have left at least 33 dead since early October. The region, claimed in full by both India and Pakistan, has been the site of a bloody armed rebellion against India since the 1990s — Photo: Adil Abbas/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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