Ironically named after the God of hospitality, Greek police Operation Zeus Xenios, seems very much the opposite. Here in Athens being dark-skinned is attracting the police more so now than ever before, as officers have been given a mandate to stop and take those they suspect to be illegal immigrants in for questioning. Around 6,000 people were detained last weekend, 1,500 of those who didn’t have formal papers were arrested. Greek police are all set for a large-scale drive to deport them back to the Asian and African countries they originally came from.
These daily sweeps have provoked the organisation, Human Rights Watch, to speak out. It’s urged the country’s authorities to stop the practice, saying that the actions - based on ‘little more than people’s physical appearance’ – ‘violate international standards’. The organisation says people must not be sent back to a country they fled because of fear of torture or persecution.
The visible foreigners are scapegoats in a country that’s seeing its worst economic times since World War 2. Seeking a new life in the country, left with little choice but to live in sometimes squalid conditions. Being accused of being criminals and a drain on the state. Those sentiments have seeped into the psyche of the Greek people and translated into parliamentary seats for far-right political parties, like Golden Dawn for the first time ever. Whether or not the police or the government bow to human rights pressure over the rounding up of suspected immigrants remains to be seen. But for now there’s doesn’t seem to be any stopping them.