NEWS

Greek foremen avoid jail after firing on migrant laborers [Update]

A Greek fruit exporter and three foremen arrested last year over a shooting attack against migrant labourers avoided jail or were acquitted altogether on Wednesday, a judicial source said.

The court in Patra threw out charges against a prominent local fruit exporter, accused of instigating the attack, and against a foreman accused of shooting at the migrants.

Two other foremen received sentences of more than 14 and eight years, but have the option to pay a fine of five euros per day instead of serving their prison term.

Both were conditionally released after appealing the verdict.

The ruling by a panel of seven judges was unanimous and as such cannot be appealed by the victims, the judicial source said.

The victims now plan to take their case to European courts.

Defence lawyer Moisis Karabeidis said the decision was "shameful" and and would embolden Greek employers to mistreat their migrant labourers in future.

"This is an inhuman, shameful decision... I am ashamed to be Greek," Karabeidis told reporters, as dozens of migrants and their supporters staged a protest outside the courtroom.

"You can imagine what kind of (working) conditions will prevail in the area from now on," he said.

The three foremen, two of whom are brothers, were accused of firing at a crowd of 200 strawberry pickers gathered to demand back pay which in some cases stretched to six months.

Around 30 mainly Bangladeshi migrants were wounded, some of them seriously, in the incident in April last year in the village of Manolada in the west of the peninsula, one of Greeces main strawberry growing areas.

The foremen said they acted in self-defence after the crowd turned hostile. They claim they were firing at the ground and that the bullets deflected onto the victims.

The government condemned the shooting but unions noted that the incident was only the latest in a long history of abuse of migrant workers in Greece.

In 2008, Manolada was the focal point of a rare strike by hundreds of migrant workers against near-slavery conditions in the fields.

Hundreds of seasonal workers, most of them foreign, are employed in local farms for meagre wages, living in shacks and forced to pay rent to their employers.

They work in greenhouses in temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) for a salary of around 22 euros ($30) a day. [AFP]

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