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Greece 2014 Crime and Safety Report: Athens

Europe > Greece; Europe > Greece > Athens; Europe > Greece > Thessaloniki

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats 

Rates of street crimes, such as pickpocketing, purse snatchings, and other crimes of opportunity, continue to be high. Over the last year, there were several reported incidents of pickpocketing and theft, mainly targeting popular tourist areas and passengers on the city Metro system. Many of the incidents involved multiple perpetrators and used various efforts to distract their victims. 

Statistics suggest that violent crime is on par with other European countries with similar threat/crime ratings. There are, however, several reported violent incidents relating to organized crime and left and/or right extremist groups targeting each other. Furthermore, there are also several reported violent incidents relating to sporting events. 

Armed violence and random assaults have been on the rise. This increase can be attributed to several factors, including decreased coverage by police due to budget cuts and austerity measures. There have been incidents involving improvised explosive and incendiary devices, as well as small arms weapons ranging from handguns to military-type assault rifles. The majority of such attacks have a specific target of interest (a criminal figure, politician, well-known journalist, wealthy industrialist, or banks). Most recently, there was an attack on the German Ambassador’s residence with automatic assault rifles.

There has also been a significant increase in burglaries of both occupied and unoccupied residences and apartments and theft from attended and unattended vehicles with valuables left in plain sight, especially during the holiday seasons (December and Orthodox Easter). Incidents relating to attempted and committed armed bank robberies have increased steadily over the past several years. 

Reported crime statistics indicate that fraud-related crimes have also increased over the past year but are not dealt with at the same level of investigative prowess as bank robberies. 

Sexual assault crimes remain low in relation to the size of the population. Tourist-related sexual assaults continue to be underreported. Cases relating to child pornography appear to be on the rise. 

Cyber crimes, though also on the rise, remain low in relation to the size of the population.
 
Overall Road Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions 

Several factors, including general disregard for safe driving practices, result in hazardous conditions on roadways for both pedestrians and motorists. Extreme caution should be used when driving, especially in Athens and surrounding areas. 

The rate of serious vehicular accidents including motorcycles and scooters is substantially higher in Greece than in other European countries with similar or equal amounts of motorized vehicles. Greece continues to hold one of the highest rates within the European Union in per capita traffic fatalities. Motorcycles and scooters routinely drive between lanes and weave in and out of both moving and stopped traffic, posing significant risk to pedestrians. Excessive speed, distracted drivers, driving in the opposite direction, non-compliance with right of way, and a general indifference to traffic laws are contributing factors for most accidents. The majority of accidents occur between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., with accidents peaking during the summer months and the holiday season. The severity of traffic-related injuries is exacerbated by widespread failure to use safety belts and motorcycle helmets. In addition, the ability to deliver emergency medical treatment immediately following accidents is poor. The response time to accident scenes in Athens is significantly slower than in the U.S. or other European cities. 

The massive infrastructure improvements and road construction projects completed prior to the 2004 Olympic Games alleviated some of the congestion in Athens, but a steady increase in the volume of traffic each year until the current economic crisis has decreased the positive impact of these improvements over time.

Road conditions can be very poor inside the city, and many roads are littered with potholes that can cause damage to a vehicle if they are not avoided. Roads on the national highway are in good condition. However, caution should still be taken, as debris on these roads is not routinely picked up. 

Drivers must obtain an International Driver’s License prior to renting a vehicle or driving. However, diplomats have been granted an exception to this requirement and are allowed to drive with their U.S. driver license and MFA card. Because this law was recently implemented, many police units remain unfamiliar with the changes and continue to require an international driver license and issue fines to those without it.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of Greece’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Greece’s air carrier operations.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

Domestic and international terrorist groups continue to be an ongoing concern. Police continue to pursue members of various terrorist groups through investigations and daily operations while examining the possibility of potential collaboration between various groups. 

Police believe the 17 November (17N) terrorist organization, responsible for 103 attacks and 23 killings, to include five official Americans, was disbanded following the arrests and prosecutions of many of its members in the run-up to the 2004 Olympics. However, the recent disappearance of one of the key members of the group, while on furlough from prison where he was serving six consecutive life sentences, has posed new questions about 17N terrorist activity. 

Revolutionary Struggle, an indigenous terrorist group that gained notoriety in 2007 for attacking the U.S. Embassy with a rocket propelled grenade, advocates an anti-globalization and anarchist ideology with anti-capitalist ideals. Its members have been charged with assassinations of government officials, bombing police stations, banks, and other representations of national interest. Two key members of this group, who were arrested in absentia after absconding while on administrative release during their trial, remain at large.

Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei is an indigenous anarchist group that was designated as a terrorist organization in 2011. The group first appeared in 2008 in connection with a wave of firebombing attacks but is most known for a series of package bombs in 2010 that targeted foreign embasies, diplomats, and European leaders. Statements from the group are generally particularly anti-capitalist. Members were arrested for armed bank robbery in northern Greece in February 2013. 

There are several smaller factions of little known operational capacity operating in Greece. In January 2013, the previously unknown “Wild Freedom - Instigator of Social Explosion” claimed responsibility for planting a small bomb that caused minor injuries to two people in a prominent shopping mall in a northern suburb of Athens. Recently, a group, “the Group of Popular Rebels,” claimed responsibility for the December 30, 2013, attack at the German Ambassador’s residence and a subsequent failed rocket attack on Mercedes Benz dealership outside Athens. 

International terrorism also continues to be a concern. The DHKP/C, a Turkish organization responsible for the February 1, 2013 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, maintains a presence in Greece. The Hellenic Police have conducted several high profile investigations, which have resulted in arrests DHKP/C members. Greece is particularly vulnerable due to its extensive water and land borders. As the first point of entry for many individuals coming from southwest Asia and northern Africa into the Schengen Zone as well as the European Union, Greece is a particularly attractive transit target. Greek authorities have made progress in better securing their land border with Turkey. However, serious challenges and concerns remain due to the highly porous borderlines.

Radical anarchist groups continue to use arson, gas canister attacks, and Molotov cocktails to espouse their anarchist and/or leftist ideologies. These incident,s targeting journalists, judges, politicians, political party offices, and the headquarters of the governing New Democracy party, appear to be more symbolic and designed to cause property damage than an effort to cause death or physical injuries. Generally, these groups make anonymous calls to the media and/or police and/or posting messages on anarchist web sites to give advance warning or they utilize after-hours attacks to minimize injuries to the public. 

Civil Unrest 

In 2013, there were three specifically anti-American demonstrations at the U.S. Embassy. These demonstrations are a yearly event; estimates of this year’s participation were less than in previous years.
 
Frequent and general demonstrations take place in Athens and Thessaloniki on an almost daily basis. Demonstrations are organized by labor unions, political parties, leftist anti-authoritarian groups, student groups, doctors, school crossing guards, pharmacists, accountants, and many other groups in the public and civilian sectors. Demonstrations are generally directed against the political and economic policies of the government, European Union, and International Monetary Fund. These demonstrations vary in size ranging from a few dozens to several thousands. 

Although most demonstrations are peaceful, anarchist groups are known to infiltrate demonstrations to create chaos. They often gather in the Athens University area before marching toward the city center area, particularly Syntagma Square, across from Parliament. From the end of the military junta all the way to 2012, police were forbidden by law from entering university campuses, and even though the law was rescinded in 2012, the police remain reluctant to enter universities because of the historical significance. As a result, violent anarchists used campuses as a safe haven and bases of operations.

U.S. multinational companies have been victims of attacks by anarchists that have resulted in significant property damage. Both Greek and American bank ATMs have been targeted by incendiary devices, and several have been destroyed. ATM happen on a weekly basis. Attacks against U.S. business interests appear to be conducted with the intent of causing physical damage and/or causing embarrassment or financial loss. The most recent anti-U.S. incident involved threat of product tampering. 

Religious or Ethnic Violence 

There are incidents of unprovoked harassment and violent attacks against persons who, because of their complexion, are perceived to be foreign migrants regardless of their legal status. People most at risk are those of African, Asian, Hispanic, or Middle Eastern descent. People are urged to exercise caution, especially in the immediate vicinity of Omonia Square, from sunset to sunrise. The Hellenic National Police has a dedicated unit that deals with these types of incidents; they can be contacted by dialing 11414. 

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards 

Greece is in a seismically active region and is at risk for earthquakes. Several significant earthquakes have occurred in 2013 (August 14 and October 12) and in Kefalonia on February 3, 2014.

Forest fires in the dry summer months are also a concern. In August 2009, fires consumed much of the area in and around Pentelis Mountain just eight km outside of the Athens city center. High winds significantly contributed to large areas being ravaged by the blazes. Although most of the devastation occurred in uninhabited forest areas, hundreds of residents sustained severe material losses, and the proximity of the fires to Athens was a major concern. 

Disaster preparedness information and specific suggestions to help mitigate the impact of wildfires and earthquakes is available from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In any natural disaster, follow the instructions of local authorities. The General Secretariat for Civil Protection, which responds to emergencies, may be reached at 210-3359932/33. 

Economic Espionage/Intellectual Property Thefts

The main intellectual property issues are copyright infringement and the sale of counterfeit trademarked merchandise. However, counterfeit sales have dropped, according to industry sources, due to the establishment of an authority for police to confiscate counterfeit merchandise. 

Drug-related Crimes

Greece continues to be a gateway country to transit illicit drugs and contraband from drug-producing countries in the east to drug-consuming countries in the west. Drug trafficking remains a significant issue for Greece in its battle against organized crime. Investigations by the U.S. DEA and its Greek counterparts suggest that a dramatic rise has occurred in the number and size of drug trafficking organizations in Greece. Authorities report that drug abuse and addiction are climbing, as the age for first-time drug use drops.

Kidnapping Threats

Kidnappings remain a concern for law enforcement authorities. Organized crime is on the rise to include a focus on kidnappings for ransom and trafficking persons and drugs. It is not known if organized crime networks are responsible for many of the kidnapping for ransom schemes or if domestic terrorism groups are committing these crimes in an attempt to extort funds to support ongoing terrorist activities. Police continue to investigate the possibility of collaboration between organized crime networks and domestic terrorist groups.

Police Response

Although Greece has a national police department totaling approximately 50,000 officers, severe budget constraints and historical antipathy for the police have limited their efficacy in deterring crime. Police skills, tactical skills, resources, and emergency response capabilities still fall short of American law enforcement standards in many respects. Emergency police and medical responses are often hampered by significant traffic congestion and delays. In 2010, the police launched a motorcycle division in Athens that has increased the number of police patrols and improved response time. 

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

If you are detained by the police or are a victim of police harassment, please contact American Citizen Services through the Embassy Receptionist at +30-210-721-2490.

Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime

If you are a victim of a crime, the central police phone number is 100. For emergency services in English, French, and German, the phone number is 112. For incidents believed to be racially motivated, please contact 11414.

Various Police/Security Agencies 

All police and security agencies are organized under The Directorate of The Hellenic National Police. Noted below are some of the key units.

DIAS: This is a unit of motorcycle police who are responsible for police patrols and emergency response in Athens, Piraeus, and their suburbs. Each DIAS unit consists of two uniformed policemen on a motorcycle. 

Police Section of Explosive Ordinance Disposal (i.e. EOD): The mission of the Hellenic Police EOD is to identify, collect, and render safe improvised explosive devices and improvised incendiary devices. It also assists in the crime scene investigations in relation to explosive devices and or subsequent explosions. 
 
Criminological Investigations Police Directorate (i.e. Forensics Lab): This Directorate is based in Athens with a subdivision in Thessaloniki and has nationwide responsibility. The Directorate consists of the following sections: Department of Fingerprints, Department of Science Laboratories, Department of Chemical Laboratories, Department of Scientific Investigations, Department of Modus Operandi, Department of Statistical Data, Department of Archives, and Department of Internal Operations.

Police Directorate for Countering Special Violent Crimes (i.e. Counter-Terrorism Unit): This Unit is responsible for the investigations of terrorist-related incidents. The unit reports directly to the Chief of the Hellenic Police. There are two divisions: one is based in Athens and the other in Thessaloniki. 
 
EKAM: Special Suppressive Counter-Terrorism Unit (i.e. SWAT): This Unit’s mission is to respond to serious and exceptionally dangerous situations as well as to respond to regions that have been contaminated by chemical/biological agents or by radiological/nuclear substances. In the broader context of its mission, it supports and participates in search and rescue operations, as well as in the evacuation of victims in major disasters or accidents.

Medical Emergencies

Contact Information for Recommended Local Hospitals and Clinics

Medical Emergency – 166 (Note that the emergency operator will transfer the call to the nearest on-call public hospital. This service will not transport patients to any private hospitals.)

Athens:
Hygeia Hospital – 210-682-7940, Kifisias Ave & 4 Erythrou Stavrou, 15123 Marousi
Mitera Hospital – 210-682-0110, Kifisias Ave & Erythrou Stavrou, 15123 Marousi
Euroclinic Athens – 210-641-6600, 9 Athanasiadou st, Ampelokipi

Thessaloniki:
Interbalkin Hospital – 2310-400000, 10 Asklipiou st., Pylea, 57001 Thessaloniki

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance 

For vaccine and health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/greece.htm

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Crimes/Scams

Travelers are warned to refuse invitations by strangers met on the street to come into local bars, especially in the Monastiraki or Syntagma areas. This is a ploy to lure individuals into small bars where they can be extorted for large amounts of cash for supposedly purchased drinks with the threat of physical harm if they refuse to pay. The scam is normally run by young females and men who speak excellent English. In addition, there is an active sex trade often involving trafficked persons. 

Areas to be Avoided 

Generally Athens is a safe city, but travelers should specifically avoid the Omonia and Syntagma areas during protests. People should exercise extreme caution in Exarchia Square and its immediate vicinity at all times. 

Best Situational Awareness Practices 

Visitors should practice common sense security practices. Plan ahead and know where you are going. Safeguard valuables and do not carry large amounts of cash or unneeded credit cards. Visitors should be particularly careful on crowded streets and other high-density areas, including entertainment areas, department stores, restaurants, underground pedestrian street-crossings, or on crowded public transportation. Always be aware of your surroundings and report unusual behavior to the police.

If you are driving and walk to your car alone at night, carry your keys in your hand. Get an alarm system that unlocks your car from a key fob (so you can enter the car quickly). The system should also have an alarm you can activate remotely from the key fob. Park in well-lit areas, lock all doors, and take careful note of the location so that you can return directly to your car. Check the back seat before getting in your car.

If you need to use an ATM, try to use one inside a bank or hotel. Do not use ATMs located in dark or isolated areas. Even when using ATMs in well-lit, crowded areas, be aware that purse-snatchers and pickpockets may be watching to learn where you are carrying your money and/or whether it is a significant amount. If practical, find another location (such as the next store you go to) to put the money in a different location from where you put it when you made your ATM transaction. Before placing your card in the ATM slot, check the machine to see if anything is stuck to the machine or if it looks unusual in any way. (Note: Run your fingertip horizontally across the card intake slot. If you feel anything protruding, it may be a sleeve for seizing your card.) When using an ATM, stay focused on what you are doing and cover the keypad with your free hand to prevent anyone from seeing your PIN. Do nothing except your ATM transaction until it is complete.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information 

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation 

91 Vas. Sophias Avenue
101 60 Athens, Greece

Embassy Contact Numbers

+30-210-721-2951 (MAIN)
+20-210-645-6282 (FAX)
http://athens.usembassy.gov

SRSO Thomas Barnard
+30-210-720-2490

Embassy Receptionist (24/7)
+30-210-721-2490/2491

ACS after-hours number
+30-210-721-2490
 
OSAC Country Council Information

Athens has an active OSAC Country Council that meets quarterly. Additionally, there is a Maritime Sub-Committee that meets yearly and an Academic Sub-Committee that meets quarterly. For additional information on the Council, please contact the Regional Security Office through the Embassy receptionists: +30-210-720-2490/2491.

SRSO Thomas Barnard

DRSO Martin Rath

ARSO Jose Maldonado