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JOHN YDSTIE, host: Greece is suffering its worst recession in decades. And like a number of other European countries, it's turmoil is creating societal problems. Greece is the entry point for about 80 percent of Europe's illegal immigrants. And that's sparking resentment among many Greeks in this time of high unemployment and cuts in social services.

To make matters worse, Athens is experiencing a rise in violent crime - a problem that's also being blamed on the immigrants.

Joanna Kakissis reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF A CR0WD)

JOANNA KAKISSIS: It's a hot afternoon, and scores of Afghans immigrants are gathering in a central Athens square called Victoria. A grandfather is selling stale bread to a young mother in a headscarf. A few young men from Kabul and Jalalabad sit in a circle near the bread seller. All came here with the idea that they'd find work. But they're all unemployed.

FARHOD BAHTERI: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: Everyone back home told me that when I came here, people would take care of me, says Farhod Bahteri, who's 25. But now he and his wife and two sons are all homeless.

It's a sad story one of thousands but many Athenians are losing sympathy. They blame a big rise in violent crime here on immigrants. Police data shows that homicides and robberies doubled between 2009 and 2010.

TASOS BOULIS: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: Tasos Boulis is the Greek owner of a kiosk in the square. He says he's been robbed several times and sees violence every night.

BOULIS: (Through Translator) They rob houses, buses, trains, anything. And no one cares. If we complain, we're racists. I expect something awful to happen, like it did in Norway, because people here are under way too much pressure from this.

KAKISSIS: The fear of immigrants is turning some Athenians like Chrysi Avgi, or Golden Dawn, a far-right nationalist party that has taken up policing these neighborhoods, often brutally.

ILIAS PANAGIOTAROS: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: Ilias Panagiotaros is a Chrysi Avgi spokesman. He says the police are letting illegal immigrants take over Athens. If immigrants complain about having no work or money, he says, then they should just leave.

PANAGIOTAROS: Then they should go back in their countries where they were nice and safe and they had nice jobs, and everything was perfect - in Pakistan, in Somalia, in Algeria and everywhere. So if they don't like Athens and have such problems.

KAKISSIS: Chrysi Avgi won a seat on the Athens municipal council last year and Panagiotaros says his party will be in parliament soon.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE PROTESTING)

KAKISSIS: Chrysi Avgi supporters were out in force in the neighborhood in May, shouting Greece belongs to the Greeks. The occasion was a memorial service for a Greek man stabbed to death by Afghans a few days before. In the riots that followed, gangs of Greeks attacked immigrants, and a Bangladeshi man was stabbed to death. Ahmad Babul, who's 29 and also from Bangladesh, watched as a friend was brutally beaten.

AHMAD BABUL: Suddenly eight, nine people coming and beat him, and his eye is broken, all blood is coming, two teeth is broken and go hospital.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN TALKING)

KAKISSIS: For now, life is calm in Victoria Square, despite the underlying tension. Every evening, Afghan children fill the place. A five-year-old boy named Hamidullah is on his own because his dad's in jail. A 10-year-old girl named Donya sells packets of cigarettes. Orestis is Greek and he owns the second kiosk here. He doesn't want to give his last name.

ORESTIS: (Greek spoken)

KAKISSIS: Look, he says, I'm not against immigrants coming here to make a better future, but there are just too many of them. He says he feels bad for the kids. But these days, he says, he also feels bad for his neighborhood. It's turned into a ghetto with too many angry people. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens.

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