According to NGOs, Roma continued to face widespread governmental and societal discrimination, including alleged police abuse or mistreatment while in police custody; regular raids and searches of their neighborhoods for criminal suspects, drugs, and weapons; limited access to education; and segregated schooling. Their dwellings lacked running water, electricity, or waste removal and were at times demolished by municipal authorities. NGOs and representatives of the Romani community reported that government efforts to address these problems were inconsistent, especially at the municipal level.
The law prohibits the encampment of “wandering nomads” without a permit and forces Roma to establish settlements outside inhabited areas and far from permanent housing. There were approximately 70 Romani camps in the country. Local and international NGOs charged that the enforced separation of Romani settlements from other inhabited areas contravened the country’s commitments under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. In addition Roma were reportedly threatened with forced evictions.
In his report on human rights the deputy ombudsman for human rights noted that, in addition to the grave housing problem, Roma faced very serious social exclusion and Romani women and children were particularly vulnerable. Very few indigenous Romani children attended school; alien Romani children tended not to go to school at all; and government projects to attract Romani children to education had very limited success. According to statistics from the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights for 2009, only 4 percent of Roma reported having attended school for at least 10 years, and 63 percent were living in segregated conditions, effectively cut off from mainstream society and municipal services.
In February the prosecutor ordered lower courts to take action to combat exclusion of Romani children from education. The lower courts ignored the order. In September the Greek Helsinki Monitor stated that segregation of Romani children in schools was a persistent phenomenon and noted the existence of Roma-only schools throughout the country as well as the refusal of school authorities in a number of areas to allow Romani children access to schools.
Romani children also continued to face social exclusion and lack of access to social services, in part because they accompanied their parents who primarily worked as wandering merchants or engaged in selling scrap materials. According to the deputy ombudsman for human rights, Roma lived in “extremely dangerous and unacceptable shacks” in many areas, and government housing projects for indigenous Roma have been largely unsuccessful.
The life expectancy for Roma was estimated at 55 years (compared to 79 for the rest of the population). Although some progress in vaccinations was made, approximately 90 percent of Romani children were still not vaccinated, and the rate of hepatitis B among Roma was three times higher than among the rest of the population. The incarceration rate for Roma was seven times higher than that of the general population.
Media and NGOs reported multiple attacks on immigrants by far-right extremist groups. NGOs and labor unions expressed deep concern over the rise in racist violence by far-right groups.
Immigrants, who made up approximately 10 percent of the total population of the country, also reportedly faced widespread societal discrimination and accused the police of physical, verbal, and other mistreatment. They reported the confiscation and destruction of personal documents, particularly during police sweeps to apprehend undocumented immigrants.
Migrant groups and NGO activists alleged that violent attacks directed at immigrants took place throughout the year. Perpetrators allegedly launched multiple arson attacks during the year on makeshift mosques in downtown Athens. In one such attack in March, five persons were injured.
Vigilantes, allegedly including members of the far-right group Golden Dawn, launched several attacks against illegal immigrants throughout the year, such as in September against the secretary of the Sudanese community, and in March and September against Pakistanis, Afghans, and other migrants.
The UNHCR sent a letter to the prime minister in September noting its concern over the series of criminal attacks “with the sole criterion being the color of the skin or the country of origin” of the victim.
A number of citizens identified themselves as Turks, Pomaks (Slavic-speaking Muslims), Vlachs (a Balkan minority group speaking a dialect of Romanian), Roma, Arvanites (Orthodox Christians who speak a dialect of Albanian), or Macedonians. Some members of these groups sought to be identified officially as “minorities” or “linguistic minorities.” The government considers the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne as providing the exclusive definition of minorities in the country and defining their group rights. Accordingly, the government recognizes only a “Muslim minority.” An officially recognized Muslim minority of approximately 150,000 members resided in Thrace and was composed primarily of ethnic Turkish, Pomak, and Romani communities. Some members of the Pomak community claimed members of the Turkish-speaking community pressured them to deny the existence of a Pomak identity separate from a Turkish identity.
Although the government neither confers official status on any indigenous ethnic group, nor recognizes “ethnic minority” or “linguistic minority” as legal terms, it affirms an individual’s right of self-identification. However, many individuals who defined themselves as members of “a minority” found it difficult to express their identity freely and maintain their culture. Use of the terms Tourkos and Tourkikos (“Turk” and “Turkish”) is prohibited in titles of organizations, although individuals legally may call themselves Tourkos. Associations with either term in their name were denied official recognition.
The government did not recognize the existence of a Slavic dialect, called “Macedonian” by its speakers, in the northwestern area of the country. Nevertheless, a small number of its speakers insisted on identifying themselves as “Macedonian,” a designation that generated strong opposition from other citizens. These individuals claimed that the government pursued a policy designed to discourage the use of their language. Government officials and the courts denied requests by Slavic groups to identify themselves using the term “Macedonian,” stating that approximately 2.2 million ethnically (and linguistically) Greek citizens also use the term “Macedonian” to identify themselves.
The UN independent expert on minority issues, in a 2009 report, urged the government to withdraw from the dispute over whether there was a “Macedonian” or a “Turkish” ethnic minority in the country. She advised focusing instead on protecting the rights to self-identification, freedom of expression, and freedom of association of those communities and on complying fully with the rulings of the ECHR that associations should be allowed to use the words “Macedonian” and “Turkish” in their names and to express their ethnic identities freely. The independent expert found that those identifying themselves as ethnic Macedonians continued to report discrimination and harassment. Representatives of the minority claimed they were denied the right to freedom of association, citing unsuccessful efforts since 1990 to register the organization “Home of Macedonian Culture” in Florina.