Greece ‘must help minorities’

Europe’s top human rights body yesterday called on the Greek government to develop national legislation prohibiting acts of discrimination toward minorities in Greece, citing an increase in anti-Semitism in the country. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, which is part of the Council of Europe, said Greece has made substantial progress in promoting religious tolerance and fighting human trafficking, but stressed that more needs to be done to protect vulnerable groups. «There remain stereotypes, prejudices and incidences of discrimination targeting members of minority groups, particularly the Roma community and minority religious groups, as well as against immigrants,» the rights watchdog said in its 43-page report. In presenting the report during a round-table discussion in Athens, ECRI members said it was of «utmost importance» that Greece create a national, independent body to monitor discrimination and cases of police misbehavior. «We need to adopt measures to implement legislation and encourage victims to lodge claims to the police,» said Professor Raluca Besteliu, an ECRI member. The report cited an increase in anti-Semitism in Greece and encouraged the Greek government to «fight this phenomenon» by creating a national day to commemorate the Holocaust. The Commission also stressed that several recommendations made in its reports four years ago have yet to be implemented, including the raising of living conditions for Gypsies, or Roma, to meet EU standards. Gypsies have not received adequate employment or educational opportunities in Greece. Many Roma dwellings are isolated on city outskirts and often do not have electricity or running water. «The location of Roma camps makes it hard for Roma children to get to school,» said Besteliu. «Roma children encounter discrimination from teachers and parents of other children.» The 150,000 Gypsies in Greece complain they face scorn just as they have in the rest of Europe. Ahead of the Athens Olympics, some Roma were forced out to make way for such projects as the parking lot at the main Olympic stadium and part of the land used for the Olympic Village. Government officials said the Roma camps are «temporary» ways of dealing with the problem and the current framework is being revised. Ioannis Tassopoulos, a Health Ministry director, said the government has responded by creating 50 health centers for the Roma and housing for 1,100 refugees and asylum seekers. The Commission also noted that Greece has no comprehensive policy for processing immigrants and asylum seekers, which makes it difficult for them to fully integrate into Greek society. «Ten percent of the people living in Greece are foreigners,» said ECRI member Stelios Perrakis. «We still have the problem of harmonizing our legislation to EU legislation on discrimination.» Refugees and asylum seekers often find themselves homeless due to a lack of reception infrastructures and the lengthy procedure by which their status is clarified by the government. Greece also has one of the lowest acceptance rates for asylum seekers in the EU.