With a Greek court absolving a strawberry farm owner and foreman of any complicity in last year’s shooting of immigrants demanding back pay, and a prosecutor dropping a probe into the drowning deaths of 11 immigrants amid charges the Coast Guard did nothing, it’s not a good time for a foreigner in Greece.
With many Greeks still trying to patch together a living four years deep into a crushing economic crisis during which austerity measures demanded by international lenders have created record unemployment and record poverty, the plight of immigrants is far from their minds.
But still they come: mostly now by boat since Greece has built a fence along the Turkish border and Evros River, choosing sea routes in rickety, overcrowded craft, many of which have capsized or sunk with great loss of life.
So desperate though are illegal immigrants to flee strife and Civil Wars in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, economic hardship in Africa, deprivation in Near Asia and Eastern Europe, that they persist, fleeing toward Greece, the southernmost entry point of the European Union.
In a detailed piece, the New York Times outlined how precarious is their life in limbo in Greece, torn between a country which grants asylum to only 5 percent of immigrants, hope to get to other EU countries, and fear of returning from whence they came.
The story outlined the grim state of trying to find places to sleep – often the roofs of construction sites or abandoned buildings – cobbling together enough rice for a group of them to eat, and ducking objects they said are thrown at them by angry Greeks who don’t want them.
This was concentrated in the western Greek city of Patra, a jumping-off point for ferries and trucks and cars on them heading to Italy, another place immigrants hope will offer a future or a day of staying alive.
It describes young men shaving with cold water from a frayed hose, hiding behind broken fences and waist-high weeds, hoping to avoid police raids or Greeks who despise them because they’re fighting for the same crumbs of bread.
Many have been stuck in Greece for many months, restricted from going to other countries because they have applied for asylum or they’re living in the country unlawfully.
“Inside the factories, the immigrants divide by age, country of origin and tribal affiliations. The teenagers — with American television shows on their smartphones — still have hope about what life may yet offer, and a charity that provides breakfast, showers and access to the Internet,” the story said.
But the older men receive no such help, and many have grown bitter. “Do you think this is fun?” one of the men said before walking away. “Do you think we are used to living in trash where we come from?”
Human rights groups have repeatedly cited conditions in which immigrants caught in roundups are kept, calling them inhumane, while Greek officials complain the EU hasn’t done enough to help deal with the waves of immigrants and the cost of trying to combat a ceaseless problem.
The Times noted there is police hostility too and that the Greek investigative magazine Hot Doc alleged a top cop was recorded in December saying that the lives of unauthorized migrants should “be made unbearable.”
Advocates say many of the young men have unrealistic expectations of what they will find elsewhere in the European Union.
“But what can you say?” said Christina Tampakopoulou, a member of a volunteer group, the Movement for the Defense of Refugee and Migrant Rights, that sometimes visits the men and assists when it can. “Here, it is worse,” the Times reported.