For migrants seeking a better life, Greece can be cruelly inhospitable.
It was one of his usual journeys. Late every Thursday, Shehzad Luqman would bicycle through the streets of Athens to the house of a farmhand, a friend who would often give him fresh produce. On Jan. 17, Shehzad set out on his bike, met his friend, but never made it back. Residents along a portion of Shehzad’s regular route say they heard the sound of a crash, cries for help, and a motorbike speeding away. The 27-year-old Pakistani immigrant was dead; he had been stabbed in the chest by two neo-Nazis in their 20s dressed in black, according to eyewitness accounts. The next day, protestors laid siege to the city center. With Shehzad’s body in a wooden coffin in the middle of the throng, immigrants and Greeks protested side by side against the rising tide of xenophobia that has engulfed their country.
Shehzad, who came to Europe seeking a better future, was a casualty of the Greek economic crisis. Six years of negative growth have left the country devastated, its economy resembling that of a country at war. Unemployment, 11 percent in 2007, is now 30 percent—and it’s nearly double that for young Greeks.
All this has fueled anger in the streets and resentment especially toward immigrants who mop up the low-paying and few jobs that are available. Hate crimes are on the rise, making life for refugees and labor fleeing war zones or poverty in Asia and Africa even grimmer. In such circumstances, Shehzad’s killing was not unusual. “This attack was not an isolated case,” says Amnesty International’s Marek Marczynski. “We have seen a dramatic escalation of racially motivated attacks over the recent past.”
According to official figures, some 700,000 legal immigrants make up 6.5 percent of Greece’s population. The size of the Pakistani community, one of the largest, is estimated to be about 80,000-strong; only 30,000 of them are in Greece legally.
Wariness of outsiders and immigrants, especially Muslims, has been longstanding in Greece. The fear of foreigners reshaping the fabric of Greek society is manifest in the capital’s absence of mosques for tens of thousands of Muslims from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. While there are mosques in other cities of Greece, Athens remains one of the few European capitals without a proper mosque. And so Muslim immigrants have improvised, setting up scores of makeshift mosques secreted away in garages or abandoned warehouses.
Yielding to pressure from the European Union, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has lately announced that he will ensure a mosque is built. But this belated concession carries another cost. It gives the far-right more visible targets. Last winter, during the last prayer of the day at a makeshift mosque in an immigrant neighborhood of Athens, two men in black first lobbed a pig’s head inside the structure and then set the mosque on fire. Fortunately, no one was injured in the attack…
(Read the full story on Newsweek Pakistan’s website: http://newsweekpakistan.com/pakistans-greek-tragedy/)