Over 3,000 immigrants flocked to the center of Athens to protest the wave of xenophobic attacks sweeping Greece. Racist violence has seen a marked increase in the wake of the financial crisis, with NGOs condemning police indifference to the attacks.
Thousands of protesters marched on the Greek parliament in Athens in one of the largest anti-racist rallies the capital has ever seen. They carried banners emblazoned with the slogans "No Islamophobia" and "Neo Nazis out!"
Some protesters brandished banners implicating Greek far-right party Golden Dawn, which has been accused of inciting xenophobia and racial violence.
Golden Dawn MP Ilias Kasidiaris attacked the Greek government for allowing the rally to take place.
“The constitution protects gatherings of Greeks and not of foreigners,” he said in a statement.
The protests follow a countrywide police crackdown on illegal immigration in Greece. The Greek government provoked immigrant ire after rounding up hundreds of undocumented immigrants in the town of Corinth and holding them in a nearby military camp. The move sparked protests from residents and local authorities, rallying against the creation of a detention center in the town.
"We will do everything possible to prevent such a disaster," Corinth's mayor Alexandros Pnevmatikos told Skai TV. "We don't want the camp, which is in the center of the city close to densely-populated neighborhoods, to become a holding center."
Pnevmatikos threatened to cut the camp’s water supply and rubbish disposal if the 350 migrants held there were not released.
Far right supporters of Golden Dawn clashed with police outside the army camp on Thursday and hurled bottles at a deputy who had come to visit the camp.
The nationwide campaign to curtail illegal immigration has been dubbed "Xenios Zeus" after the ancient Greek god of guests and travelers. The Greek authorities have thus far arrested thousands of illegal immigrants.
Greece’s minister for public order announced on Thursday that a special unit would be created within the Greek police to combat the “phenomenon of racist violence.” The move came after several rights groups criticized Greece for its failure to curb the rise in xenophobic attacks.
Human Rights Watch released a report last month condemning Greek police for their failure to act of cases of racial violence.
"Migrants and asylum seekers spoke to Human Rights Watch of virtual no-go areas in Athens after dark because of fear of attacks by often black-clad groups of Greeks intent on violence,” said the report.
The document also implies collusion between Golden Dawn and local police forces in connection with the attacks.
The extremist party denies any connection to the racial attacks sweeping Greece.
Last month Golden Dawn spokesperson Ilias Kasidiaris said that immigration was a government conspiracy to turn Greece into “a wretched protectorate inhabited by subhumans, with no conscience, with no country, with no national culture.”
One of the party’s solutions to immigration is to mine areas along the Greek border where high concentrations of immigrants cross into the country.
Golden Dawn currently has 18 seats out of 300 in the Greek parliament and has seen a rise in popularity in the wake of an increase in unemployment and crime levels.