Greek police have arrested three farm foremen accused of shooting a crowd of migrant strawberry pickers on Wednesday.
28 workers were injured – seven of them seriously, with one person in a critical condition.
The attack took place at a strawberry plantation in the rural town of Nea Manolada, about 260km south-west of Athens.
The three supervisors, aged 21, 27 and 39, opened fire on a crowd of about 200 – mostly undocumented and Bangladeshi – workers with hunting rifles as they asked for six months of unpaid wages.
The arrests came as the Greek Minister for Public Order, Nikos Dendias, visited the crime scene.
Dendias promised that the injured workers would not be expelled from the country, despite not having legal permission to work in Greece.
He said: “In Greece today, the exploitation of hundreds or thousands of our fellow men is not acceptable, nor is their attempted murder.”
However, it has also been reported that the country’s Labour Minister Yiannis Vroutsis would pass legislation to allow police to crack down on uninsured work.
The exploitation of strawberry pickers in the Peloponnesian village of Nea Manolada is well-documented.
Farm owners in the area take advantage of the ‘grey’ status of migrant workers to employ them in slave-like conditions.
The workers have no health insurance, no rights and earn below-subsistence wages – if paid at all.
According to doctors who examined the injured workers, most of them were suffering from malnutrition.
And this isn’t the first time that farm labourers in the area have been the victims of violence.
In 2008, when 1,500 migrant workers went on a strike to demand a decent wage, they were savagely beaten by locals.
Police subsequently arrested, not the farmers, but the workers, claiming that they were in Greece illegally.
In 2009, two farmers in Manolada tied two Bangladeshi workers to a motorcycle and dragged them through the town square.
In 2011, two journalists working for the Greek newspaper To Vima were brutally attacked while trying to expose inhumane conditions at the New Manolada farms.
And last August, two Greek men were arrested for jamming the head of a 30-year-old Egyptian in a car window and dragging him around for one kilometre.
The latest incident, however, has received widespread condemnation from all political and social forces in the country.
“Businessmen have hired paid musclemen and they use foreign workers as modern slaves in their plantations, shooting them when the dare to ask for their salaries. Such phenomena are an insult to justice, humanity and reflect Middle Age like conditions,” said Greece’s Union of Public Sector Workers (ADEDY) in a public statement.
“In the strawberry plantations of Manolada, a parallel state outside the rule of law has been created, while working conditions resemble the slave-trade regimes of “Special Economic Zones”, like those that the government and the Troika want to create in the country,” said Greece’s General Workers’ Union (GSEE).
The Communist-affiliated PAME workers’ union noted that the incident was only the latest in a long history of abuse of migrant workers in Greece.
"Growers and landowners have operated with cover from the government and justice for years, creating a hell-hole with slavery labour conditions," the union said in a statement.
"Modern slaves in Manolada work in stifling conditions, pay rent to their exploiters and are lodged in sheds without water and electricity."
In recent years, Greece has received a significant number of undocumented migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa with many of them trying to enter the EU through the porous sea and land borders of Greece.
However, Greek agriculture is heavily reliant on migrant labour and several thousand migrant workers – many of whom are undocumented – are employed as strawberry pickers in New Manolada.
It is estimated that more than 40 percent of the country’s informal workers are migrants.
The treatment of immigrants in Greece has long been criticised by domestic and international human rights groups – but to no avail.
The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, recently called on Greek authorities to get tougher on the upsurge of racist attacks and hate crimes in the country.
Two days ago, an international social media campaign was launched, calling for a worldwide boycott of strawberries from Nea Manolada, using hashtag #bloodstrawberries.
The incident in Nea Manolada also received widespread coverage from the international news media.
But when camera crews are gone, the nightmare facing migrant workers in Nea Manolada will continue.
Trapped in a country where unemployment has reached 27.2 per cent and wages across the board are falling, their undocumented status renders them unable to seek refuge elsewhere in the Eurozone.
Indeed, some of the injured workers who have been discharged from hospital have already returned to the strawberry plantations…