In Greece, refugees and migrants of African origins seem to be the most vulnerable and at risk of these crimes. Victims have shared horrific tales of brutal attacks, episodes of discrimination and maltreatment, including unsolicited stop and search and detention. These crimes often go unreported because of the victims’ vulnerability and mistrust in law enforcement. Even more, often the same people meant to protect them are maltreating them. Some refugees have confided of being taken in custody because of their unclear permit status and kept in for hours without any explanation before being released. The unlucky ones have been in and out of detention centres. It seems that after fleeing from conflicts, turmoil, drought, food scarcity and ISS, in Europe are facing a darker fight: racism.
The people that I have photographed and shared their stories with me survive on park benches, occupied premises, in camps and refugee shelters. Unprotected and in insecure status they speak of their ordeals: I met B.S. while he was receiving treatment from the NGO Babel in Athens for anxiety and stress disorder. B.S. is an asylum seeker from Guinea and a victim of a brutal hate crime incident. He was attacked by a group of people as he was getting off a bus in central Athens at 9:00pm in September 2014. He recalls: ‘I heard people behind me shouting “Malaka” [wanker] and immediately after someone started to slapping me. I asked ‘Why?’ but they just carried on attacking me, throwing me back and forth like a football ball. Then I saw a knife been taken out and I was knifed. I collapsed. I was left for dead on the pavement before the police was called six hours later. The police station was 2 minutes away.’ Unfortunately, B.S.’s case isn’t an isolated one. Sometimes such crimes are psychological nature, as a refugee from Sudan explains: ‘I see people wiping a handle or a seat that has been used by me, a black person, before they would use it themselves.’ Moreover, discouragingly the police attitude seems to add to their marginalisation. S.E.Y. points out: ‘I have been taken to prison many times because of having no paper. Police stops me for no reason, takes me to the police station and I am left there without any explanation, sometimes for hours. If I ask for some food or water, they laugh at me.’
Even if my documentary research suggests that cases of physical attacks appear to have diminished in Greece, those of psychological nature have risen. The message seems to be clear: keep refugees and asylum seekers in confined areas, whether physically or psychologically.
M. says: ‘[I] feel like I have been put into a big prison―I cannot leave, find a job and live a normal life. I want to bring your attention to suffering. We have no quality of life. For months I slept in a park, no money, no place to live. When you get here, there is no system to make you safe. I have been in detention, maltreated, and victim of police violence. How can we be strong and survive? How can we live life like a human being? I just wanted to find a place that it was safe for me. I must try to survive and be strong.’