Press Release

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GREEK HELSINKI MONITOR
(Greek National Committee of the International Helsinki Federation)

& MINORITY RIGHTS GROUP - GREECE
(Greek Affiliate of Minority Rights Group International)

P.O. Box 51393, GR-14510 Kifisia, Greece Tel. 30-1-620.01.20; Fax: 30-1-807.57.67; E-mail: office@greekhelsinki.gr

OPEN LETTER

Mr. G. Romeos,
Minister of Public Order.

3rd November, 1997

On Friday, 31st October, 1997, a familiar by now as well as repulsive story has taken place at Zephyri in Attica. The inhabitants of the Gypsies’ neighborhood saw before them armed policemen who were blockading their ghetto. The official explanation was the usual one: chasing after drug-traffickers. Of course, whenever the police have definite charges for participation in criminal actions, they can carry out their investigations and proceed to arrest the suspects, in accordance with legal procedures.

However, such an action is something completely different than adopting the practices of "blockading" which indiscriminately transform unsuspecting citizens into "targets" and terrorize their minors through surprise raids by armed men, only because these citizens happen to be Gypsies. Such practices which are adopted with an increasing frequency lately, strengthen the racist conception of collective responsibility branding collectively entire categories of citizens: the criminals are "Gypsies" or "Albanians".

It is not an accidental fact that a few days ago, again at Zephyri, the municipal authorities attempted to pull down the shanties in the shabby neighborhood of the Gypsies, claiming - vaguely and in a leveling out manner- that the Gypsies are engaged in drug trafficking; neither is it an isolated fact. Recently, articles in the Press have reported a police operation at Evosmos in Salonica, again in order to chase out suspects for drugs, again in a Gypsies’ settlement, and they have added that Mr. Economou, at the head of the police force, stated that "the Gypsies aided" the suspects - the Gypsies as a whole, equally in a leveling out manner. And, a little while before that, after some truly atrocious criminal acts have been committed for which some Albanian illegal immigrants are alleged to be suspects, we saw projected on our television screens threats by citizens that they will "take up arms" and will take the law into their own hands against "the Albanians".

On the 4th December, 1996, in reply to a question raised by SYNASPISMOS’ Members of Parliament Messrs. Dragasakis and Mustafa regarding the murder of the innocent Gypsy A. Mouratis, you, Mr. Minister, have said: "With regard to the Police operations, these are not carried out against the Gypsies, the group of Greek citizens which has particular social problems, about whom we all are sensitive. Their planning is drawn up in the framework of the Police mission in order to prevent and suppress criminality and consolidate public order and security, and their aim is to track down and arrest ruthless and dangerous criminals who had committed severe crimes."

As for the "sensitivity of all", many plans have been officially announced, many words of compassion have been said, but we have yet to see something being materialized concretely. And, meantime, despair is accumulating in the Gypsy ghettoes, municipal authorities are organizing "mopping-up operations" and, at any occasion, the characterization of "Gypsies" is coupled with that of "ruthless criminals".

Let the police look for criminals where they might find them and let them cease their terrorizing of entire neighborhoods. We expect that you, Mr. Minister, will prove that your aforementioned words are also the political practices of your Ministry; with instructions for a correct behavior in the future as well as an examination on the indisputable excesses with regard to the recent cases in Evosmos and Zephyri.

Yours faithfully,

Sophia Nicolaidou
Responsible for the Roma Office

O?oeio

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