18 Apr 2013

Greece: Migrant strawberry pickers shot in ‘shameful’ attack

The Greek government promises “swift” punishment for an attack in which twenty-nine Bangladeshi strawberry pickers were shot and injured by foremen at the farm where they worked.

Workers shot in Greece spark social media #bloodstrawberries campaign (Twitpic)

Greek police are hunting three men who are believed to have opened fire on 200 migrant workers protesting over pay arrears in Greece on Wednesday.

Twenty nine strawberry pickers, mostly Bangladeshi immigrants, were injured in the attack apparently carried out by three of the strawberry plantation’s foremen. Police said seven are still in hospital following the shooting, which took place near the village of Manolada in Greece.

The workers say they were protesting because they have not been paid for six months.

One told local media that they had gathered because they were told they would get their money.

“We were told to go in the afternoon to get paid. We are 200 people and we are owed over the past six months a total of 150,000 euros,” said “Patrice”, showing the wounds on his body from the shooting to the reporter.

After the attack, the three foremen disappeared. Greek authorities have arrested the owner of the farm, who was not present during the attack, and a local man suspected of hiding the three fugitives, and continue to hunt the three gunmen.

Boycott call

A social media campaign is urging people to boycott the “blood strawberries” from the Nea Manolada farm. The area has been in the spotlight before – a protest by workers in 2008 led to accusations that the migrant workers there were being treated as little better than “strawberry slaves”.

A letter from two rural co-operatives to ministers in the wake of the shooting pointed out that not all labourers lived under these conditions, but added: “We recognise that there is a fundamental problem with the welfare of the labourers.” The letter said that they had no other option than to take on illegal immigrant workers and house them insufficiently, in some cases, to keep their businesses economically viable – and called for more government help.

This unprecedented and shameful act is foreign to Greek ethics. Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou

On Thursday, Greek officials promised “swift and exemplary punishment” for the shooting. Spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said: “This unprecedented and shameful act is foreign to Greek morals.”

Anti-foreigner attitudes have been increasing in Greece, which is at the sharp end of the eurozone crisis. The country has been in recession for five years and unemployment is spiralling out of control. Some feel the country simply cannot cope with the migrants who arrive in Greece looking for a better life when it already is so close to breaking point.

However, John Spyrounis, journalist and owner of local news site ilialive.gr, told Channel 4 News that he believed it was an “isolated incident”.

“This is not a sign of a rise in anti-foreigner sentiment in Greece. I think that it is an isolated incident. Workers say they have no problems with other bosses, only with this person [one of the apparent gunmen],” he said.

He said the terrible conditions the workers live in were widely known but not properly discussed or dealt with.

Hate crime

Earlier this week, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights Nils Muiznieks warned that something must be done to halt the rise of hate crime and prejudice in Greece, highlighting the ascendance of neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn as a particular concern.

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

Last month, a Channel 4 News film about Golden Dawn in which one party member threatened to turn immigrants into soap sparked a police investigation into the Greek party.

Reports in Greece said Golden Dawn has condemned the Manolada shooting.