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Greece Race Attacks At 'Alarming' Level

Protests against austerity measures turned violent during the October 9 visit to Greece of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A network of more than 20 rights groups, including the United Nations’ refugee agency, says racially-motivated attacks targeting migrants and refugees have risen to “alarming” levels in economically struggling Greece.

The groups said 87 racist attacks were recorded between January and September. But it said the actual number of such attacks was likely higher, because many victims may have been too fearful to report attacks to police due to their status as illegal immigrants.

The victims are reported to include people from Afghanistan, Albania, Bangladesh, Iraq, Pakistan and Somalia.

Analysts say economic hardship in debt-burdened Greece has helped fuel the rise of the vigilante and far-right gangs suspected of carrying out the attacks.

The anti-immigrant, right-wing Golden Dawn party won 18 seats in the 300-member parliament in Greece’s June elections.

The group, which was only a fringe organization just a few years ago, denies having neo-Nazi beliefs.

In addition to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR), groups participating in the study included the Greek sections of Amnesty International, the Human Rights League and Doctors of the World.

The report says victims speak of areas in the capital Athens that have “become off limits to them due to the fear of attack.” It adds that no perpetrator of any of the attacks cited in the report has yet been sentenced to prison.

The groups say that most victims were attacked in public spaces such as squares or on public transport, usually by gangs of men dressed in black and at times wearing helmets or with their faces covered.

Greece is a main point entry for illegal migrants from Africa and Asia who are seeking to stay in the European Union.

Tens of thousands of illegal migrants are estimated to cross into Greece from the country's land and sea borders with Turkey each year.

Many Greeks are struggling to pay their bills and obtain the necessities as the debt-hobbled country seeks to emerge from five years of recession.

Unemployment is now at a record 25 percent, and the country faces years more of hardship as it implements harsh spending cuts and tax hikes in order to receive international rescue loans and avoid bankruptcy.

with reporting from AFP, Reuters and AP