400 immigrants shop-owners based in the center of Athens demonstrated on May 2014, against the police harassments affecting their businesses (Hatziprokopiou and Frangopoulos, 2015). Dominant discourse had already prepared the field for the official right-wing populist state practices towards immigrants although the official political actors always denied it (Karamanidou, 2016). Right-wing populist state policies and practices were based on the distinction between “us” (the people) and “them”, the “others” and the “illegals”, constructing “the public and its enemies”, “defining (il)legalities” (Koutrolikou, 2015).
But state xenophobic policies and practices are not new. During the 1990s, for the first time police operations named “sweep operations” were launched for the removal of the illegal immigrants settled in specific neighborhoods of the city of Athens, and many of them were deported (Kandylis, 2015; Labrianides and Lyberaki, 2001; Pilliant, 2015). Illegal immigrants mainly from Albania as the most massive migration populations at that time, was their main target. Few years before the Olympic Games these operations were reduced following the traces of the dominant discourse about the “celebration of multiculturalism”. Thus, this public celebration was necessary due to the fact that it was migrant populations that occupied in the construction sector produced a large number of infrastructures developed that period. Simultaneously, legalization policies were launched during that period
The implementation of the law 3907/2011 entitled “… regarding the common rules and procedures at the states-members (of the EU) for the return of the illegal residing nationals of third countries …” launched a significant number of reforms regarding the borders control. Simultaneously, a new urban operation was designed, implemented by the police in many large Greek cities. Named “Xenios Zeus”,
the operation started during the August of 2012 as ‘sweep’ police operation. The name of the operation refers to the ancient god Zeus known to be the god of the hospitality. In the Greek mythology Zeus was invoked for the protection of the visitors and the revenge against any injustice against foreigners (HRW, 2013).
The operation “Xenios Zeus” had the explicit official purpose of combating “illegal migration and criminality” (?????????????, 2012) focusing on the immigrants populations in urban areas (Xenakis, 2013). At the same time, it was presented as an operation of “reclaiming Athens” due to the fact the “a lot of areas of center of Athens has transformed into a ?????”1. The basic tactic during the operations was the verification of immigrants documents from the police, in order to control their legal status and … In the majority of the cases, during the operations, after their arrest, the immigrants were driven to various police stations of Athens for their identification. If they do not had legal status or they had fake documents they were detent to the local police stations or to the detention centers like Amygdaleza in the margins of the city. The duration of the detention could legally reach the 18 months according to the aforementioned law (Pillant, 2015). The operation targeted not only the immigrants on the streets but also the control of the migrants’ businesses without legal licenses and criminal activities. At the same time a large number of immigrants with documents were arrested till the check of their papers at the police stations, after which were released.
A daily press release from the police was presenting the operations’ results in a daily basis during 2012. The official data during the first 6 months (6-2-2013) of the operation revealed that 77.526 immigrants were checked at the street of Athens (usually driven to the police stations), and 4.435 of them were “undocumented” (only the 6%) (HRW,2013). Out of them, only 59 immigrants and natives were arrested for criminal activities such as smuggling, renting houses in a large number of undocumented immigrants, facilitating their residence in the city, trafficking of forged travel documents etc. 525 investigations in houses were implemented, and 207 in business (commerce, services, restaurants etc) 2. During 2013, 18.553 immigrants were checked, while 1392 of them were arrested because of the lack of legal documents (Pillant, 2015). Kandylis (2015) argues that the total deportations during the operation “Xenios Zeus” remained lower than the sweep operations of 1990s, as the majority of the “illegals” mostly stayed for a specific period in various detention infrastructures. From the summer of 2014, the goals of “Xenios Zeus” continued through the operation “Thiseas” (Kandylis etal, 2015).
During these operations, violence against immigrants from the police authorities have been recorded, both verbal and physical, from the destruction of documents to the abuse at the police stations (Cheliotis, 2013; Karamanidou, 2016; Amnesty International, 2012; HRW, 2013). It have been argued that the operation reproduced a racist discrimination between “strangers” and Greeks, due to the fact that the persons checked on the streets were only chosen with only criteria their ethno-racial origin, their language, the color of their skin etc. (Greek Ombudsman, 2013). In a recent research through interviews with immigrants, Human Rights Watch specifies three tactics from the police the Discriminatory treatment based on ethnicity, the Interventional inquiries and the Body abuse and verbal abuse during checks (HRW, 2013).
1 Statements by the “Minister of Citizen Protection” Mr. N.Dendia for the operation “Xenios Zeus” http://www.minocp.gov.gr/index.php?option=ozo_content&perform=view&id=4322&Itemid=551&lang=
2 «?????? ?????. ????????? ??? ??????????? «?????? ????» ??? ??? ????? ????????? ??? (???????????? ???????? ??? ??? ???????? 2012 ????? ??????). 06-02-2013, http://www.astynomia.gr/index.php?option=ozo_content&lang=’..’&perform=view&id=24518&Itemid=1058&lang=