The battle against racism is far from over

Immigrant groups and anti-racism groups held a rally in central Athens yesterday, World Day Against Racism, drawing media and government attention to their problems that derive mainly from their difficulty in dealing with state agencies. Greece has been criticized in recent years for an alleged rise in xenophobia, which many experts attribute to an unforeseen influx of illegal immigrants from neighboring Balkan countries. Others challenge the reports as unfounded. «Greece has been a country of emigration, but over the past decade it witnessed a mass influx of immigrants, particularly from neighboring countries, as a result of the collapse of former communist regimes and ensuing ethnic conflicts. Today, it is estimated that immigrants amount to 7 percent of the total population, most of them having come from Albania illegally in search of better living conditions.» With these remarks, Maria Telalian, legal adviser to the Special Legal Department of the Greek Foreign Ministry, opened her briefing last year before the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Telalian, who headed the Greek mission that briefed the committee in Geneva in March last year, also explained that since the events in Albania in 1997 (in which the collapse of pyramid schemes led to widespread violence), criminal bands that had looted weapons from the army have been involved in arms trafficking and organized crime in Greece and other European countries. «A number of border areas in Greece have been hard hit by such activities, leading to a sense of insecurity among local inhabitants and fueling a negative stereotype about Albanians,» Telalian remarked. The US State Department, in its 2001 annual human rights report, noted that in Greece the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, while stressing that «serious problems» were reported in some areas. «There was a report of an isolated police killing of a Rom,» the report said. «Security force personnel sometimes abused persons, particularly illegal immigrants and Roma. Overcrowding and harsh conditions continued in some prisons. Police sweeps resulted in the detention, often under squalid conditions, of undocumented immigrants. There are legal limits on the freedom of association of ethnic minorities.» For its part, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recognized that Greece has ratified a range of international human rights instruments, including the establishment of a national mechanism with responsibility for overseeing the implementation of human rights, but at the same time it noted several areas where there is ample room for improvement. «Noting that the report of the State party refers to the ‘Muslim minority of Western Thrace,’ and within this group to Turkish, Pomak and Roma groups, and not to other groups in the country, the Committee draws the attention of the State party on the rights of each person to self-identification,» the committee declared in its recommendations. The UN body also encourages the government to build upon education at all levels in order to counter negative stereotypes; to pursue dialogue with representatives of the Roma, Pomak, Albanian and other minority groups; and to take further measures to increase awareness of the principles of the Convention by law enforcement officials.

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