NEWS

Council of Refugees stops operations after attacks

The head of the Athens office of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Giorgos Tsarbopoulos, on Friday condemned a series of apparently racially motivated attacks on the offices of the Greek Council of Refugees (GCR) that led to the latter?s closure earlier this week.

A series of attacks on the GCR?s offices and staff over the past two weeks obliged its management to suspend its operation, which will have a negative impact on the processing of applications for asylum by refugees, Tsarbopoulos said in a press release distributed on Friday.

More than 40,000 asylum applications are pending in Greece, the first point of entry for a relentless influx of immigrants seeking a better life in the European Union.

?Clearly such activities end up working against refugees and asylum seekers and must be stopped,? the Athens UNHCR head said.

?One day without the GCR?s offices operating means dozens of families do not have access to legal and social support services,? he added.

Tsarbopoulos linked the attacks on the GCR to a peak in racist violence that followed the fatal knifing of a 44-year-old Greek man near central Athens on May 10. The killing, Tsarbopoulos said, has spurred a wave of racially motivated attacks and created a ?vicious cycle of hatred and barbarism.?

A few hours after it emerged that immigrants were being sought in connection with that attack, suspected far-rightists assaulted a 21-year-old Bangladeshi national who died of his injuries a few days later. Police have charged two Afghan nationals with the murder of 44-year-old Manolis Kantaris and are seeking a third man, a Pakistani, who the Afghans describe as the key assailant.

In an open letter sent by the Greek Council of Refugees to its staff on Tuesday, the organization said it was temporarily suspending its operations ?in protest after another incident of groundless violence against our offices.?

The GCR blamed the attacks on ?a small minority,? noting however that ?the activities of these individuals have created a serious security problem for our staff and for those who seek our services.?