Police hunt Manolada foremen who opened fire on migrant farm workers

Police say 29 migrant farm workers shot at for demanding back pay

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Supervisors opened fire on dozens of Bangladeshi migrant strawberry pickers in Nea Manolada, on the outskirts of Ileia in the Peloponnese, on Wednesday

Migrant strawberry pickers at hospital in Nea Manolada. More than 30 were injured on Wednesday Migrant strawberry pickers at hospital in Nea Manolada. More than 30 were injured on Wednesday Officials on Thursday promised "swift and exemplary" punishment for three strawberry plantation foremen who allegedly shot and injured 29 Bangladeshi labourers protesting late pay.

Police are seeking the three suspects who disappeared after Wednesday's shootings, which occurred during a confrontation with some 200 Bangladeshi farm workers in the country's rural south who say they have not been paid for half a year.

Seven Bangladeshi workers were still receiving treatment in local hospitals, but none have life-threatening injuries.

One of the immigrants involved in the protests told  Skai TV that they had been promised wages of €22 a day. Reports say some men were owed €1,000 each.

"They keep telling us that we will get paid in a month, and this has been going on for more than a year," said the worker, who was not identified. "We don't talk about it because we are afraid that we will be killed or kicked out."

Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou condemned the "inhuman, unprecedented and shameful" shootings near the village of Manolada in the western Peloponnese.

The plastic-topped greenhouses that cover Manolada's broad plains account for most of the country's strawberry output, using cheap labour by Asian immigrants often housed in primitive conditions. There have been several attacks on migrant strawberry workers in recent years, but Wednesday's was the worst so far.

"The barbarous attack ... conjures up images of a slavery-based South that have no place in our country," Justice Minister Antonis Roupakiotis said.

Political parties and trade unions expressed shock, and about 100 people took part in a protest by labour groups outside the labour ministry in Athens.

"Before the shootings, there was an altercation between the foreign workers and the three foremen over six months' outstanding wages," police spokesman Christos Parthenis said. "After that, the three fugitives left the spot, and returned shortly later holding two shotguns and a handgun, and opened fire on the crowd."

Police found five used shotgun cartridges at the spot.

Authorities have arrested the owner of the farm. On Thursday, they also arrested a local man on suspicion of hiding the three fugitives.

Golden Dawn issued a statement Thursday condemning the Manolada shootings. It then added: "We also condemn those who illegally employ illegal immigrants, taking the bread away from thousands of Greek families."

"All illegal immigrants must be immediately deported," it said.

The natonal section of the Doctors of the World medical aid group said the shootings should be treated as a case of racist violence, which carries more severe penalties.

"The protracted financial crisis, combined with a constantly growing mood of xenophobia and tolerance for racist violence, is leading to incidents of barbarity and brutality that ... insult Greece," a group statement said.

The labour minister ordered an urgent inspection of work conditions at the Manolada strawberry farms.

But the country's main labour federation GSEE accused the government of failing to properly investigate conditions at Manolada, which it likened to a modern form of slavery.

"The criminal act in Manolada ... shows the tragic results of labour exploitation, combined with a lack of control" by the government labor inspectorate, a GSEE statement said. "In Manolada, and particularly in the strawberry plantations, a sort of state within a state has been created."


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No rich pickings 

Several thousand migrant workers, many of them undocumented, are employed as strawberry pickers in the area.

This is not the first time that immigrants in Nea Manolada have protested against harsh working conditions. In 2008, immigrant farm workers staged a two-day strike (delaying the shipments of strawberries) to protest against harsh working conditions.

Their strike exposed slave wage exploitation, shocking living conditions and prejudice. The Pasok government at the time responded to the strike by ordering labour inspectors to crack down on farmers exploiting migrant workers in Nea Manolada.

Despite the country’s soaring rate of unemployment, agriculture is heavily reliant on immigrant labour. In 2009, two farmers in Manolada tied two Bangladeshi immigrants to a motorcycle and reportedly dragged them through a central square.

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