Hans & Tamar Oppenheimer Chair in Public International Law

7 September 2012

Xenios Zeus operation: Greece continues rounding up migrants on the basis of their perceived ethnicities

European Council on Refugees and Exiles

This week, the Greek Police announced that during the first month of the Xenios Zeus operation, 16,836 foreign nationals have been brought in for questioning. 2,144 of these people have been arrested for not fulfilling the legal requirements to reside in the country. This means that 80% of the people brought in for questioning were in fact legal residents and had therefore been subjected to this treatment due to their perceived ethnicity.

The Xenios Zeus operation, whose goal according to the Greek Police is to seal the borders; return undocumented immigrants to their countries of origin; and “reinstate the rule of law” in the centre of Athens, has been heavily criticized as a discriminatory practice, among others by ECRE, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Greek Council for Refugees.

Racist crime and xenophobia continue to escalate in Greece: in one shocking example, on 12 August, a racially motivated attack culminated in the death of a 19 year old Iraqi boy. The boy had been stabbed to death in Athens by extremists. This rise in racism and xenophobia has triggered a strong reaction from the Greek public, with over 3,000 people marching to the Greek Parliament on 24 August, in one of the largest anti-racist rallies the capital has ever seen.

The Greek authorities claim that as a result of Xenios Zeus, the influx of illegal immigration in the area of Evros has been reduced by 84%. However, according to the newspaper ‘To Vima’, the “Xenios Zeus” operation has resulted in a dramatic increase in the smuggling tariffs for entering Greece from Turkey and leaving Greece for Italy. A few months ago, smugglers would request 2,500 to 3,000 Euro for a safe passage, while would-be migrants are now asked to pay up to 5,000 Euros.

Meanwhile, local authorities on the Greek islands of the north-eastern Aegean sea are, according to Ekathimerini, preparing for a strong increase in the number of people arriving in Greece fleeing violence in Syria, as measures to reduce the inflow of undocumented immigrants via the Greek-Turkish border in the Evros region have put a greater strain on the coastlines of Greek islands. According to the Greek media, Greek officials have already asked Frontex to increase sea and air patrols at the islands of the north eastern Aegean. This week a boat carrying undocumented migrants trying to reach Greece capsized off the coast of western Turkey, leaving at least 60 people, 31 of whom are children, dead.

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