Racist attacks on the rise in Greece-migrants group

ATHENS Tue Aug 14, 2012 12:30pm EDT

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ATHENS (Reuters) - Racist attacks against immigrants are on the rise in Greece, leaving hundreds of victims injured and at least one dead, the head of an organization representing Pakistanis in Greece said on Tuesday, urging authorities to stop ignoring the phenomenon.

Greece is a major gateway for mostly Asian and African migrants trying to enter the European Union. But they face increased hostility as the country goes through its deepest postwar recession and record unemployment.

"It started with verbal attacks, then came rods and brass-knuckles and now the knives are coming out," Javied Aslam, head of the Pakistani Community organization and the president of the migrant workers' association, told Reuters.

His remarks follow the brutal killing of a young Iraqi, who was stabbed to death in Athens on Sunday. Police suspect a racist attack but nobody has been arrested or charged.

Political parties and major newspapers expressed outrage at the attack, which is just the latest in a string of violent incidents against immigrants.

At least 500 migrants have been attacked in the last six months, said Aslam who works as an interpreter at hospitals. More than 20 were stabbed and hospitalized in the last three weeks alone.

In June, four Egyptians were beaten up by a gang. A month earlier Greek media reported that an Albanian standing on the street was stabbed with a sword by a masked motorcycle rider.

Human rights' groups have said that there was evidence that perpetrators are associated with local vigilante groups and Golden Dawn, an extreme-right party elected to parliament this year - the first time a far-right party has been represented in the assembly since the fall of a military junta in 1974.

A day after the killing of the Iraqi, arsonists firebombed an office of Golden Dawn causing minor damage.

Reacting to Golden Dawn's rise, Greece's conservative-led coalition has pledged to crack down on illegal immigration.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras struggles to maintain social peace amid growing public frustration with painful austerity measures he needs to take in return for bailout money from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Greek police have arrested over 1,650 paperless migrants in a sweep operation this month code-named "Xenios Zeus", the ancient Greek God for guests and foreigners.

But Aslam said the operation has just fuelled anti-immigrant feeling and encouraged vigilantes. "It is clearly the government's responsibility," he said.

(Reporting by Phoebe Fronista and Renee Maltezou; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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