Greece: “My children are afraid, they don’t want to return to the house”
The nearly 350,000 Roma living in Greece have been at the receiving end of discrimination and intolerance for generations.
From forced evictions, to school segregation, discriminatory police raids and racially motivated violence, they have learnt what it means to be unequal.
Racist attacks against minority groups, such as the Roma, have increased in recent years in Greece.
Since 2012, Roma living in the village of Etoliko, in western Greece, have faced some of the most brutal attacks, with homes vandalized and burned with Molotov cocktails. Many Romani families left, with no choice but to flee with their children.
For Paraskevi Kokoni, a 36 year-old mother of seven, the last straw came in October 2012, following a series of mob attacks against Roma in the area.
Paraskevi was shopping for food with her then 11-year-old son and 23-year-old nephew Kostas, who has a mental disability, when several men chased them on the street and brutally attacked them.
“Two of the men went for me and the rest were punching and kicking Kostas. I was calling for help but nobody came… I grabbed my son and left, but they still had my nephew,” she said.
Paraskevi ran to the local police station to ask for help and told the officer her nephew was still in danger. She said that the officer told her there was nothing he could do as he was too afraid to go to the scene alone. When back up arrived, everybody had gone.
Paraskevi’s husband found Kostas unconscious in the street. Both Paraskevi and Kostas were injured, suffering cuts and bruises, and had to be taken to hospital.
Paraskevi was left with no choice but to take her children and leave the city.
“The police did not protect us. We left Etoliko and moved to Patra. We left our own home. My children don’t want to return to the house. They are afraid. It is my home, but I also don’t want to go back. I’m scared… why would I go, so that they can kill my child?” Paraskevi said.
In November 2013, three of the men involved in the attack were charged with serious bodily harm. They are due to appear in court in the coming weeks.
Paraskevi’s story is, unfortunately, not unique in Etoliko. In January 2013 the hostility towards Roma reached a new high when a 70-strong mob attacked the neighbourhood.
Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International believe the failure by the Greek police to stop attacks against vulnerable groups, such as migrants and the Roma, and bring those responsible to justice has contributed to the increase in brutal racist attacks.