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Vigilantes Are Targeting Immigrants In Greece, Human Rights Watch Says

A "wave of xenophobic violence" is rising in Greece, where vigilante gangs are targeting immigrants for beatings, Human Rights Watch reported today.

According to the international watchdog group:

"Most attacks take place at night, on or near town squares. Attackers work in groups, and are often dressed in dark clothing with their faces obscured by cloth or helmets. Some of them arrive and flee on motorcycles. Bare-fisted attacks are not uncommon, but attackers also often wield clubs or beer bottles as weapons. Most attacks are accompanied by insults and exhortations to leave Greece, and in some cases the attackers also rob the victims."

It adds that "Human Rights Watch interviewed 59 people who experienced or escaped a xenophobic incident, including 51 serious attacks, between August 2009 and May 2012. Victims of serious attacks included migrants and asylum seekers of nine nationalities and two pregnant women."

Correspondent Joanna Kakissis tells our Newscast Desk that "migrants say they're usually attacked by up to 20 men. Some are sympathizers of Golden Dawn, a neofascist party who wants kick foreigners out of Greece. Migrants told the aid group that Greek police refuse to investigate attacks and sometimes ask for money to do so."

Joanna adds that "another aid group, Amnesty International, recently released a report criticizing the police for excessive violence against migrants." In that report, Amnesty International writes that it "frequently receives allegations of torture and other forms of ill-treatment against members of vulnerable groups by law enforcement officials in Greece."

Human Rights Watch is calling on Greece's new government to condemn the violence and improve the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes.

Greece has been rocked in the past few years, of course, by the financial crisis in Europe, its economy is in shambles and its governments have been teetering.

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.