Greece launches manhunt after 200 immigrant farmworkers are shot at and wounded for demanding back pay

The 200 strawberry-pickers, many of them from Bangladesh, had been working on the Greek farm for six months without pay. So they went to see the boss. But instead of leaving with their money, they were shot

Athens

The increasing severity of racist attacks in Greece is under renewed scrutiny after immigrant farmworkers in the west of the country were shot and wounded for demanding their back pay.

A manhunt was underway in Western Peloponnese for three men wanted in connection with the shooting of 28 Bangladeshi strawberry pickers who had protested over unpaid wages. The three foremen have been accused of opening fire on the unarmed immigrant workers after they refused to return to work.

The Greek police are investigating a racist motive for the attack which took place in Manoladas Ilias, a town notorious for attacks on immigrants. Among the suspects is a man who was accused in 2010 of torturing an Egyptian man by trapping his head in a car window and dragging him alongside the vehicle.

The shooting has prompted a local campaign to boycott “blood strawberries” with Greek social media flooded with pictures of bloodstained fruit. Graphic images of the wounded and terrified pickers have prompted shock and outrage in a country where anti-immigrant attacks have become wearily familiar.

Dimitris Christopoulos, an expert in immigration law and associate professor at Panteion University in Athens, said the attack while “horrifying” was the result of years of impunity for similar offences.

“Manoladas has been synonymous with racist violence but there has been no punishment so they feel free to keep doing it,” he said.

He compared the harsh exploitation of labour and wanton violence against immigrant workers to Quentin Tarantino’s bloodthirsty film on US slavery, ‘Django Unchained’.

According to the police and witnesses some 200 farmworkers gathered at a farm in Manoladas Ilias on Wednesday afternoon after being promised wages owed to them for the last six months. Instead the owner appeared with three foremen armed with shotguns and a pistol who told the fruit pickers to get back to work. They refused and an argument ensued during which at least one of the three foremen opened fire with a shotgun.

“We are two hundred people and together we’re owed Euros150,000,” one of the Bangladeshi workers told the local Patris newspaper. “They didn’t give us any money but told us to get back to work. When we refused three of them started firing at us.”

Of the 28 men injured, 18 were taken to a hospital in the nearby town of Pyrgos, while the other nine were transferred for treatment to the port city of Patras. While at least seven of the men were seriously injured none were in a critical condition, according to a police spokesman.

Police have arrested two men in connection with the shooting. One of them is the 57 year old owner of the strawberry fields and another a 38 year old man from a nearby town who is accused of sheltering the fugitive foremen involved in the shooting. Neither of the men have been named. The Greek government condemned what it said was an “inhuman, unprecedented and shameful” attack and promised to swiftly punish the perpetrators.

However, several of the victims of the shooting were themselves arrested after being released from a hospital in the port city of Patras. Six of the men who were only lightly injured were allowed to leave the hospital but they were stopped by police at the exit. Only three of the six had permits allowing them to live and work in Greece, the others were detained and can expect to be deported. Officials have denied claims that witnesses to the crime were being deported and insisted that all of those involved will give a full statement.

The economic crisis in Greece has been exploited by neo-Nazi outfit Golden Dawn, which has gone from a fringe group with a handful of supporters to the third most popular party in the country, according to recent opinion polls. Golden Dawn supporters have been linked with dozens of violent assaults on foreigners and have recently launched raids on public hospitals in search of undocumented immigrants working as nurses.

In January, Amnesty International reported a “dramatic escalation of racially motivated attacks over the past year”, blaming the increasing radicalisation of right wing groups in the country.

Greece is in its sixth year of a recession which has wiped out one-fifth of the economy and left more than a quarter of the workforce unemployed – the highest rate in Europe. However, the Manoladas shooting is similar to other attacks that took place prior to the economic collapse in 2008.

“This is not about the recession. It’s about racist violence and the horrendous exploitation of workers,” said Prof. Christopoulos.

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