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 occasionally demolished them. NGOs and representatives of the Romani community reported that government efforts to address these problems were inconsistent, especially at the municipal level.
The law provides for the temporary encampment of itinerants with permits from 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. The law, however, was not enforced, and most Romani camps were in sites not designated by the authorities due to their unwillingness to set up camps and install the necessary infrastructure. Consequently, Roma continued to establish, without permits, settlements lacking the requisite infrastructure. There were approximately 70 such camps in the country.
Based on municipal announcements, GHM reported that on June 4, on the island of Rhodes, 10 municipal police officers detained 15 Romani adults and 20 children who had recently arrived on the island and camped in public places. Police allegedly confiscated and destroyed their personal belongings and detained them for a day before forcing them to leave the island by boat.
In other cases the exclusion of longstanding Romani settlements (often existing for decades) from city planning ordinances prevented legal construction of schools, parks, and infrastructure projects such as sewage systems. Local and international NGOs criticized this as de facto, enforced separation of Romani settlements from other inhabited areas, charging that such a separation violated the country’s commitments under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. In addition authorities threatened Roma with forced evictions. In July, following orders for administrative evictions, authorities demolished 14 Romani homes on a state-owned plot during a police operation in Kalamata. A court order suspended the eviction of Roma from the Athens Halandri area in September 2012, but their relocation had yet to occur.
Local authorities reportedly opposed proposed state-property sites for the relocation of the Roma.
In his 2012 report on discrimination, the deputy ombudsman for human rights noted that, in addition to the difficult housing problem, town planning authorities levied disproportionate fines on Roma for establishing makeshift homes without permits. In one case, the fine totaled five million euros ($6.75 million). The ombudsman considered the fines excessive in light of Roma poverty and social exclusion, and suggested authorities reduce the fines.
The illiteracy and high school dropout rates among Romani children were high. Authorities did not enforce the mandatory education law for Romani children, and local officials often excluded Romani pupils from schools or sent them to Roma-only segregated schools. In May the ECHR ruled that local 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. The ECHR twice before in 2008 and 2012 found the country to be similarly discriminatory.
According to the deputy ombudsman for human rights, Roma faced serious social exclusion, with Romani women and children 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.
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. Marriages at the ages of 13 to 17 followed by the births of many children continued to prevail in Romani communities.
In July the minister of interior admitted that there were problems in the registration of Roma due to negligence or ignorance, resulting in exclusion of Roma from rights and benefits.
In October police raided a Romani settlement in Farsala, and determined through DNA testing that a girl living with a Roma couple was not the couple’s biological child nor had she been formally adopted. Police reportedly uncovered three similar cases, one involving a Greek non-Roma couple that allegedly bought a child from a Roma woman. Judicial authorities initiated an investigation on belated birth registrations. In October the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights stated that “irresponsible journalism,” which consistently mentioned the ethnicity of the couple involved in the case, could fuel already existing, violent anti-Roma movements.
The estimated life expectancy for Roma was 55 years, compared with 80 for the rest of the population. Despite some progress in vaccinating Romani children, approximately 90 percent of them were still unvaccinated, 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 by far-right extremist groups, including GD members. The victims were mainly men from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and sub-Saharan Africa. They suffered various degrees of bodily harm and destruction of personal property. In April the Racist Violence Recording Network presented its 2012 findings, documenting 151 cases of violence, of which 130 occurred in Athens and the wider Attica region. Most of the incidents involved severe bodily injury or property damage; two of the five cases involving women occurred against women wearing hijabs. Ninety-one incidents were linked to extremist groups. In 148 of the 151 cases, victims reported more than one attacker; 25 attacks had direct police involvement; and in eight cases, victims or witnesses described GD insignias on the attackers’ clothing. Victims in all cases reported verbal abuse and threats against foreigners. 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.
Often the perpetrators of racist violence were motorcycle riders dressed in black, with supposed GD connections. Allegedly, in some neighborhoods, GD members attempted to regulate the movement of non-Greeks by setting restrictions on locations and hours of circulation through intimidation and violence. In January police found GD leaflets in the home of one of two perpetrators of the murder of a Pakistani asylum seeker. In July 20 assailants reportedly attacked two Pakistani nationals with knives a few hours after a public gathering of GD members in the area. GD members also reportedly participated in attacks against Greek nationals, antifascists, and members of leftist and anarchist groups.
On September 17, a self-professed GD member stabbed to death an ethnic Greek hip-hop musician known for his leftist political views. The murder sparked demonstrations and criminal investigations against the GD party. As of December 5, police arrested at least 46 GD members, including the party’s leader and eight other GD MPs, on charges of forming or participating in a criminal organization. Six of these MPs had their parliamentary immunity from prosecution lifted and were under investigation for criminal activities. On October 22, parliament enacted laws stripping GD of public funding.
On December 9, authorities submitted new evidence related to GD actions to examining magistrates investigating cases against party members. The counter-terrorism squad confiscated computers belonging to GD parliamentarians Ilias Kasidiaris, Giorgos Germenis, Yiannis Lagos, and Nikos Michaloliakos. Authorities found videos of new members swearing an induction oath to the organization, performing Nazi salutes, and stating, “I am Golden Dawn because we are rebels. Let’s kill the Jew hiding in all of us.” Other footage showed GD leader Michaloliakos stating, “They say that we are the evil fascists and nationalists. The truth is that they are right.”
In April a 33-year-old man became the first person in the country in recent years to be charged under the 1979 antidiscrimination law, which criminalizes racially motivated violence. Authorities accused the individual of attacking a Bangladeshi street peddler at least eight times. On November 21, an Athens court sentenced two GD party members to three years and five months for carrying out an arson attack on the bar of a Tanzanian immigrant in May.
In a 2012 report, the NCHR concluded that the country’s laws and mechanisms for recording and punishing incidents of racist violence were ineffective and inefficient. The NCHR expressed its deep concern over racism and intolerance expressed in public, political, and religious speech, including racist songs and chants shouted by minors during soccer games. Eleni Zaroulia, an MP from the GD party, who also served on the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination at the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, referred to migrants in the country as “sub-human” and “wretches that carry diseases” during an October 2012 debate in parliament. In July 2012 HRW 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 continuing Xenios Zeus police sweeps that began in August 2012 against individuals, allegedly based on their physical appearance. According to HRW, police subjected thousands of individuals to abusive stops and searches on the streets and held them for hours in police stations in overcrowded conditions. HRW accused the government of ethnic profiling and of arbitrary deprivation of liberty. 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 consisted of approximately 120,000 individuals residing in Thrace and composed primarily of ethnic Turkish, Pomak, and Romani communities. Some Pomaks claimed members of the Turkish-speaking community pressured them to deny the existence of a Pomak identity separate from a Turkish one. Some Pomaks alleged members of their community received monetary incentives to self-identify as Turkish.
Although the government recognizes an individual’s right to 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”) was prohibited in titles of organizations, although individuals legally may call themselves Tourkos. Authorities denied associations with either term in their name official recognition; the last such denial occurred in April 2012 when the Areios Paghos Supreme Court determined 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 speakers identified themselves as Macedonian, a designation that generated strong opposition from other citizens. These individuals claimed that the government pursued a long existing policy designed to discourage the use of their language. Government officials and the courts denied requests by Slavic groups to use the term Macedonian in identifying themselves, stating that approximately 2.2 million ethnically (and linguistically) Greek citizens also use the term Macedonian in their self-identification. The government has long refused to recognize an association named “Home of Macedonian Culture,” objecting to the use of the term Macedonian. The association took the case to the ECHR in 2009, and in August 2012 the ECHR accepted the case for judgment.