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Fighting rising hate crimes in Greece

Hassan Mekki, a 32-year-old Sudanese migrant, shows scars on his back in Athens. Mekki alleges he was attacked by men with Greek flags. (Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)

Hate crimes are on the rise in Greece and urgent action is needed to help stop xenophobic attacks on immigrants, warns the European commissioner for human rights.

Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe's human rights czar, said Tuesday in a new report that the steep increase in the rise of hate crimes in Greece is being directed at migrants and it is of grave concern for all in Europe.

Among his recommendations, Muiznieks wants to see the recently added 70 anti-racism police officers properly outfitted and supported to help diffuse the rising tide of hate. And to help integrate other cultures, he suggested the construction of a mosque and a Muslim cemetery in Athens.  The European Council represents 47 member states.

"Democracy in Greece is seriously threatened by the upsurge of hate crime and a weak state response," he said in a release. "Sustained and concentrated action, notably by the police and the courts, is necessary to protect the rule of law and human rights in the country."

For years, Greece has been rocked by economic uncertainty, high unemployment and social unrest leading to violent protests in Athens. 

The court system is buckling under excessively long proceedings, court fees and a "lack of an effective remedy," he warned in his stinging report.

He pointed out a particularly troubling issue is violence against Roma people and "persistent reports" of ill-treatment and torture committed by law officials. He called on officials to stop the institutional culture of impunity and any possible  "collusion" by the police with the Golden Dawn party, which has been described as having neo-Nazi views.

There have been calls for Greek authorities to ban the party, the Associated Press reports, adding Muiznieks told them Greece would be within its rights to not allow the party to participate in the democratic process.

Muiznieks visited Greece at the end of February. Greek authorities, in a statement, welcomed his research and said the proposals contained in the report will be carefully considered.

However, they added racist attitudes remain a marginal phenomenon in Greece and that culturally the people are open and hospitable.

"Huge problems currently facing the Greek society due to the economic crisis, combined with the problems arising from the continued influx of thousands of illegal immigrants, have not blurred the society's judgement," the government statement added.

The Greek parliament urged prudence and wisdom, going forward. "As such, solutions and treatment cannot be products of emotional responses which could backfire or bring about more unwanted results."

Europe watches and hopes.

READ MORE: Golden Dawn: In Greece, hunger feeds hate

Tanya Talaga is the Star's global economics reporter. She was recently in Cyprus covering the eurozone crisis. Follow her on Twitter @tanyatalaga



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