Ιn the small Greek town of New Manolada, located in the region of Ilia in the western Peloponnese, a large number of enterprises occupy hundreds of hectares of land for intensive greenhouse cultivation. Exploitation, blood and impunity perhaps best describe the grim reality behind the bright red strawberries that grow here.
Thousands of undocumented irregular migrants are working long hours in the fields for starvation wages, living in squalid conditions highly hazardous to their health. The pickers live in tents that can hold up to 25 and lack both electricity and proper facilities for dealing with human waste. Summer temperatures often rise up to 40 degrees in the tents and the workers must bathe and do laundry in a stream behind a nearby gas station.
On April 17, 2013, three foremen at the area’s largest strawberry company opened fire on a crowd of striking Bangladeshi workers who were demanding six months’ outstanding wages. The incident left 35 migrants wounded and several in critical condition. The three shooters and their employer, Nicos Vangelatos, were arrested on charges of labor trafficking, illegal possession of firearms and breaches of employment laws. The case began in a Patras court in June, with a team of the nation’s most famous criminal lawyers representing Vangelatos and his foremen. The accused were found innocent on all serious charges and were not even condemned for employing undocumented migrants.
The Hellenic League for Human Rights was present during the trial and does not consider it to have been fair. Therefore, both the Greek Council for Refugees and the Hellenic League for Human Rights requested that the chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court declare the trial invalid and call for a new, fair trial. The chief prosecutor, after examining the request, concluded that the trial was fair and the verdict acquitting the men of all serious offenses will be final.