Between bureaucracy and violence, Pakistanis in Greece push back

2018-08-26T18:54:00+05:00 Web Monitoring Desk

Athens, Greece - Well before the sun came up on January 17, 2013, Shahzad Luqman woke up, hopped on his bicycle and took off for work in a suburb of the Greek capital, Athens, reported Aljazeera.

The 27-year-old Pakistani, who had been in Greece for six years, was going from his home in the Peristeri neighbourhood to nearby Petralona to unload oranges at the farmers market.

But before he could reach work, he was stabbed seven times and left to bleed out in the street.

When police swept the homes of the killers, they found leaflets published by Golden Dawn, the Greek neo-fascist party that currently has 16 seats in the country's parliament.

The incident wrought trauma in Greece's migrant community, particularly among Pakistanis, who are estimated to be around 50,000 in number and have been migrating in ebbs and flows to the Mediterranean country since the 1970s.

Javied Aslam, the 50-year-old president of the Pakistani Community of Greece and head of the Union of Immigrant Workers, remembers the day Luqman was killed as a turning point.

"They [had] targeted and attacked around 1,000 workers. And not one Golden Dawn member was punished until Luqman was killed and his two murderers were arrested," Aslam told Al Jazeera.

"That was the first time anyone from their party was arrested."

Five years later, Aslam said migrant workers continue to bear the brunt of far-right violence.

In 2017, the number of hate crimes motivated by race, skin colour and national origin almost tripled compared to the year before, according to police.

Qamar Zaman was among those attacked when he got off a bus in Athens. A group of young Greeks followed him, beat him up and fled with some of his belongings when passersby approached.

"My life was saved because of that [people approaching]," said Zaman. "Otherwise, I would've probably died."

Aslam, who moved to Greece in 1996, said Pakistanis began to fall in the crosshairs of far-right parties and groups around 2010. "They have inflicted a lot of pain and carried out racist attacks, including murders," he said.

Led by Aslam's Pakistani Community of Greece, the migrant workers have played a leading role in anti-fascist demonstrations in recent years, often taking to the streets after attacks. 

Mahmoud's attack came after months of beatings and threats in Goritsa, the farming village where he works and lives. "In Gortisa, you can find a victim in every home," he said. "Over the past two years, not only I, but many other men have been attacked." 

Pakistani migrant workers, who make up around 90 per cent of Greece's agricultural employees, have also endured a spate of labour disputes. In addition to being attacked, Pakistanis in Greece often struggle to obtain residency. 

The Racist Violence Recording Network documented at least 871 violent hate crimes between 2012 and 2017. Out of those, more than half targeted refugees and migrants.

Pakistanis were increasingly targeted in Goritsa last year. Many packed up and moved to safer areas. But Mahmoud refused, as he feared leaving his job would embolden the far-right attackers.

Mahmoud insists that Pakistani workers must fight for their rights on their own. "None of our bosses will help us," he said. "If I told my boss that I'm going to a protest, he wouldn't let me go."

According to the workers, some Greek bosses threatened to call Golden Dawn when the workers complained of work conditions or demanded back pay. Racist hate crimes have continued at a steady pace into 2018 after nearly tripling last year. 

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