Strawberry Fields in Blood

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I feel shame, disgust and horror for what happened in New Manolada, Greece this week. I feel I must apologize for the Greek monsters who blindly opened fire, injuring a host of migrant strawberry pickers from Pakistan and Bangladesh who had been left unpaid for months and returned to demand their dues. Instead of the landowner listening to their legitimate grievances, he, inexplicably, commanded his foremen to shoot them.

According to workers' testimonies, all began when the employer balked at paying a reported total of 150,000 euros in long overdue wages and insisted they return to work immediately. Unsurprisingly, the 200 laborers refused and were then met with gunfire that wounded 29 of them, sending seven to the hospital in serious condition.

Ironically, New Manolada, a village in Ilia prefecture, lies a few kilometers from Ancient Olympia where the Olympic Games were born and where the Ancient Greeks would gather, interrupting all wars in order to compete for the ideals of sport. All political parties, both government and opposition alike, quickly condemned the actions of the Greek bosses but where, I wonder, has the Greek state been all these years? For stories concerning the mistreatment of foreign workers and the deplorable conditions under which they are forced to subsist have been circulating in Ilia since 2005.

Television reports have highlighted the migrants' plight on numerous occasions, depicting them crammed into makeshift homes without potable water and with rudimentary toilet facilities made from drill pipe with sewage stagnating in adjacent external tanks.

Thousands in the wider area and employed mainly in the strawberry fields are immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt and the Balkans who not only live in squalid "shanties" but must hand over almost half their meager income as rent. Forced to toil for endless hours for minimum wage and to live in such an unhealthy environment, they are like helpless slaves to their Greek masters.

Pressed into action after the fact, the local police have launched a massive manhunt seeking out the perpetrators of the crime. However, where have the authorities been all this time, knowing full well the extent to which misery is pervasive in the Ilian strawberry fields? Why didn't they ever order an investigation into the inhumane treatment of the workers or indict the heartless landowners for hiring illegal aliens in the first place?

Unfortunately, for a problem that has been simmering for years, silence has been paramount in Ilia. Local authorities and church leaders have ignored the issue. Immigrants lay low in order to earn a pittance while those that witness or benefit from the labor pretend nothing is wrong.

The situation is a travesty for Greece in the 21st century. It is shameful that the government has closed its eyes shut, unwilling to do anything about this disgraceful issue of which it has long been aware, neglecting its responsibility to enact legislation or take any serious action.

The strawberry fields of Manolada are stained with blood. Even now that the gunslingers are found, even if they are punished and even if current protest movements to boycott the purchase of the bloody fruit are successful, the reality remains firmly tragic.

A stone's throw from Olympia, Ancient Greece's glory and pride, the modern Greeks condemn their fellow men in bondage, seemingly oblivious to their ancestors' principles of equality and democracy.

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