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Hit By Crisis, Greek Society In Free-fall

Immigrant and human rights groups say there has been an alarming increase in violent attacks on migrants. Greece has been the EU's main gateway for hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants â¿¿ and foreigners have fast become scapegoats for rising unemployment and crime.

While there are no official statistics, migrants tell of random beatings at the hands of thugs who stop to ask them where they are from, then attack them with wooden bats.

Assaults have been increasing since autumn 2010, said Spyros Rizakos, who heads Aitima, a human rights group focusing on refugees. Victims often avoid reporting beatings for fear of running afoul of the authorities if they are in the country illegally, while perpetrators are rarely caught or punished even if the attacks are reported.

"Haven't we learned anything from history? What we are seeing is a situation that is falling apart, the social fabric is falling apart," Rizakos said. "I'm very concerned about the situation in Greece. There are many desperate people ... All this creates an explosive cocktail."

In response to pressure for more security and a crackdown on illegal migration, the government launched a police sweep in Athens in early August. By late October, police had rounded up nearly 46,000 foreigners, of whom more than 3,600 were arrested for being in the country illegally.

Police say that in the first two months of the operation, there was also a 91 percent drop in the numbers of migrants entering the country illegally along the northeastern border with Turkey, with 1,338 migrants arrested in the border area compared to 14,724 arrested during the same two months in 2011.

HEALTHCARE

At a demonstration by the disabled in central Athens, tempers were rising.

Healthcare spending has been slashed as the country struggles to reduce its debt. Public hospitals complain of shortages of everything from gauzes to surgical equipment. Pharmacies regularly go on strike or refuse to fill subsidized social security prescriptions because government funds haven't paid them for the drugs already bought. Benefits have been slashed and hospital workers often go unpaid for months.

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