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 municipal authorities at times demolished them. NGOs and representatives of the Romani community reported that government efforts to address these problems were inconsistent, especially at the municipal level.
In an August case submitted jointly by the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) and the World Organization against Torture, the UN Human Rights Committee ruled that the country violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by failing to investigate a claim of mistreatment and discrimination against a local Roma by police officers.
The law provides for the temporary encampment of wandering nomads with the permission of regional authorities in designated locations. The law also stipulates that camps should have the necessary hygienic infrastructure such as running water, sewage, and garbage collection. However, the law was not enforced, and most Romani camps were in sites not designated by authorities due to Roma unwillingness to set up camps and to install the necessary infrastructure. Consequently, Roma continued to establish, without permits, settlements lacking the necessary infrastructure. There were approximately 70 such camps in the country. Local and international NGOs charged that the enforced separation of Romani settlements from other inhabited areas violated the country’s international commitments. Roma were also threatened with forced evictions. In March scores of Romani families were evicted from a makeshift settlement on a state-owned plot near the Athens airport. A court order suspended the eviction of Roma from the Athens Halandri area in September.
The illiteracy and dropout rates in high school among Romani children were very high. Authorities did not enforce the mandatory education law for Romani children, and often excluded Romani pupils from schools or sent them to Roma-only facilities. In December the ECHR ruled that government authorities failed to integrate Romani children into the education system, instead placing them in separate classes due to their ethnic origin. The ECHR ordered the state to pay fines and legal expenses to these Romani families.
In his annual report released in May, the deputy ombudsman for human rights noted that, in addition to the grave housing problem, Roma faced 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 little success.
In May the deputy ombudsman for children’s rights and the GHM 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 numerous areas to allow Romani children access to schools. The GHM stated that the compulsory education law was not enforced for Roma. Marriages at the ages of 13 to 17 followed by the births of many children continued to prevail in Romani communities.
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 in sales of 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 were largely unsuccessful.
Roma had an estimated life expectancy of 55 years, compared with 80 for the general population. Despite some progress in vaccinating Romani children, approximately 90 percent of Romani children lacked vaccinations, 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.
The UNHCR, local media, and NGOs reported an increasing number of racially motivated attacks on immigrants throughout the year by far-right extremist groups and vigilantes, allegedly including members of the Golden Dawn political party. The victims of racist violence were mainly men from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and sub-Saharan Africa. They suffered various degrees of bodily harm and destruction of personal property. In August unidentified attackers killed an Iraqi man. The government condemned the murder and launched a criminal inquiry. On October 23, the Racist Violence Recording Network presented its January to September findings on incidents of racist violence. The network documented 87 cases of racist violence against refugees and migrants. Seventy three of the cases occurred in Athens; 50 involved severe bodily injury requiring hospitalization; 30 were assaults; two consisted of property damage; and two occurred against women wearing hijabs. The two property damage cases involved arson of a Pakistani-owned hair salon and an improvised explosive device used in a building inhabited by Syrian refugees. In 85 cases, victims reported more than one attacker; 15 attacks had direct police involvement; and in several cases, victims or witnesses described Golden Dawn political party insignias on the attackers’ clothing. Victims in all cases reported verbal abuse and threats against foreigners. Eleven victims filed official complaints while police unwillingness or refusal to investigate their complaints allegedly deterred 22 others. The network noted that the actual number of cases was most likely higher, because many victims were undocumented immigrants and were afraid to report attacks.
In many instances, the perpetrators of racist violence were motorcycle riders dressed in black, with supposed connections to Golden Dawn. In September three Golden Dawn MPs allegedly took part in attacks against migrant street vendors. In two separate incidents, the parliamentarians went through open-air markets and checked foreign vendors’ permits. Golden Dawn’s own video footage subsequently uploaded to the Internet showed party supporters smashing immigrants’ stalls, ostensibly because the vendors lacked necessary permits. Parliament’s Commission on Ethics approved a prosecutor’s request to lift the parliamentary immunity of the three Golden Dawn parliamentarians in order to pursue possible prosecution.
In July the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) released a report, which concluded that the country's laws and mechanisms to record and punish incidents of racist violence were ineffective and inefficient. The NCHR expressed its deep concern over racism and intolerance expressed through public, political, and religious speech, including racist songs and chants shouted by minors during soccer games. Eleni Zaroulia, an MP from the Golden Dawn party who also sits on the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination at the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, referred to migrants in Greece as “sub-human” and “wretches that carry diseases” during an October debate in the Greek parliament. In July Human Rights Watch also released a report showing a sharp increase in attacks against presumed migrants and alleging that authorities regularly ignored or discouraged victims from filing complaints.
Local and international NGOs, criticized authorities for Xenios Zeus police sweeps against individuals, allegedly based on their physical appearance. NGOs claimed that police rounded up undocumented migrants and placed them in administrative detention in overcrowded conditions, without screening them to distinguish refugees meriting protection from other migrants. Police on occasion declined to accept government-issued identification cards, including those of diplomats, as valid proof of residency for persons perceived to be illegal migrants.
A number of citizens identified themselves as Turks, Pomaks (Slavic-speaking Muslims), Vlachs (a Balkan minority group speaking a Romanian dialect), Roma, Arvanites (Orthodox Christians, speaking an Albanian dialect), or Macedonians. Some members of these groups sought official government identification as “minorities” or “linguistic minorities.” The government recognized only a “Muslim minority,” as defined by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. The officially recognized Muslim minority of approximately 150,000 individuals resided in Thrace and consisted 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. Some Pomaks claimed members of the Pomak community received monetary incentives to self-identify as Turkish.
Although the government affirms an individual’s right of self-identification, many individuals who defined themselves as members of a minority group found it difficult to express their identity freely and maintain their culture. Use of the terms Tourkos and Tourkikos (“Turk” and “Turkish”) are prohibited in titles of organizations, although individuals legally may call themselves Tourkos. The government denied official recognition to associations with either term in their name; the last such denial issued in April by the Areios Paghos Supreme Court stated that a 2008 ECHR decision requesting the country to recognize the Turkish Union of Xanthi was not binding.
The government did not recognize the existence of a Slavic dialect, called “Macedonian” by its speakers; nevertheless, a small number of its speakers identified 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 government has long refused to recognize an association with the name “Home of Macedonian Culture,” objecting to the use of the term “Macedonian.” The association took the case to the ECHR in 2009. In August the ECHR informed the government that it had accepted the case for judgment and requested the government to submit its position by January 15, 2013.