Greece has been a popular destination for tourists over the centuries, thanks to the nation’s rich cultural heritage and natural beauty. Yet, the past few years in this European country have been marked by escalating tension and human rights violations as Greece struggles with debt, austerity measures and civil unrest. The nation once famous for its vases and philosophers has entered the news more frequently for rioting, strikes and human rights abuses committed against immigrants.
As a major entry point into the European Union, Greece is a hotspot for immigration, and the nation has become increasingly hostile to visitors. The government’s camps and holding facilities have become concerns for human rights advocacy groups, while vigilantes patrol Greek cities and ports looking for people whom they think don’t belong. This has led to beatings and other abuses committed, not just against undocumented visitors, but against people who are in Greece entirely legally, including tourists.
Racism in government policy has been compounded by the rise of Golden Dawn, a notoriously anti-immigrant group. Golden Dawn has particularly close ties with the Greek police, who are entitled by law to stop people and demand identification. In recent months, numerous tourists have been stopped and illegally held solely because of their skin color, including Black and Korean visitors. Tourists, visiting professors, businesspeople and other legitimate guests of the nation have been held despite having passports and other proof that they are in the country legally.
This is understandably raising concerns among many travelers of color, who have warned each other through their own informational networks that visiting Greece may be dangerous and other destinations should be considered. They aren’t the only ones, though. The U.S. State Department’s travel advisory for Greece includes a statement buried far down the page that should be ringing alarm bells:
“There has been a rise in unprovoked harassment and violent attacks against persons who, because of their complexion, are perceived to be foreign migrants. U.S. citizens most at risk are those of African, Asian, Hispanic, or Middle Eastern descent. Travelers are urged to exercise caution, especially in the immediate vicinity of Omonia Square from sunset to sunrise. Travelers should avoid Exarchia Square and its immediate vicinity at all times. The U.S. Embassy has confirmed reports of U.S. African-American citizens detained by police authorities conducting sweeps for illegal immigrants in Athens.”
Effectively, Athens has become a Sundown Town, one where being nonwhite after dark is extremely dangerous, and some neighborhoods are too unsafe to venture into at all. This is chilling news, and will undoubtedly give many people currently planning their vacations room for pause, if the nation’s human rights violations weren’t already cause for concern.
It also raises the question of whether external pressure may finally force reforms in Greece and a turn away from increasingly violent, xenophobic policies. Greece relies heavily on revenue from tourists, business conferences and other events involving travelers, and if people start boycotting the country for their safety or out of solidarity with other travelers, Greece’s hand may be forced. Its racist anti-immigrant policies could crumble under scrutiny from outsiders, and Golden Dawn’s popularity might wane in a nation where people see the full ramifications of the group’s policy advocacy.
Photo credit: Dennis Jarvis