ATHENS – Greece’s New Democracy government has repeatedly denied allegations that refugees and migrants are being pushed back at sea and on land. However, human rights groups and activists continue to claim that these practices are occurring.
“It’s becoming an unofficial policy of how to deal with people who arrive seeking protection in the EU. As an EU Member State, we cannot allow the rule of law to fall apart in this way,” stated Aideen Elliott, Senior Policy and Research Coordinator with Oxfam Ireland, in an interview with Ireland’s state broadcaster RTE. Oxfam, in collaboration with the Greek Council for Refugees, stated that there are pushbacks that violate European Union law, but there has been no response from the European Commission.
A new report from the Greek Council of Refugees (GCR), entitled “At Europe’s Borders: Between Impunity and Criminalization,” also alleges that asylum seekers are being prevented from entering the country. These individuals are coming from Turkey, where they fled war, conflict, and economic hardship in their homelands. They use Turkey as a launching point to reach Greece after the EU closed its borders to them.
According to Oxfam, which is partnered with the Greek Council for Refugees, there have been pushbacks that violate European Union law. However, the European Commission has yet to take any action on this matter.
In the new report, “At Europe’s Borders: Between Impunity and Criminalization,” the Greek Council of Refugees (GCR) claimed that asylum seekers are being prevented from entering the country. These individuals are fleeing war, conflict, and economic hardship in their homelands, and use Turkey as a launching point to reach Greece after the EU closed its borders to them.
Under a 2016 swap deal with the EU, Turkey was supposed to contain around 4.4 million refugees but has allowed human traffickers to continue sending them without being sanctioned, while Greece is facing the pushback allegations.
The report, according to the news site, detailed 11 instances of pushbacks in the Evros border region and the Aegean islands, as well as two instances of pullbacks by Turkish authorities at Evros.
All cases mentioned in the report are legally represented by GCR and submitted to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and/or the Greek Public Prosecutor. However, there is no news on any findings.
“This report provides evidence that the illegal pushing back of people, known as ‘pushbacks,’ is not an isolated incident but a systematic one,” said Elliott. “The border Member States are tasked with so much of hosting border control, which does not work, so an EU-wide approach is needed,” she added.
The testimonies included in the report share similar descriptions of what people had to endure during a pushback operation, with alleged victims speaking of arbitrary and illegal detention, neglect, physical and sexual violence, including rape. However, no proof was offered.
BOTH SIDES NOW
The EU has provided funding to build closed detention camps on five islands near Turkey’s coast – Leros, Lesbos, Kos, Chios and Samos – that are the primary destinations for the human smugglers sending the refugees.
Elliott said she went to the center on Samos, within sight of Turkey’s coast and was disturbed by conditions although the government said every care has been taken to insure a humane settling.
“It’s really prison like. These people have not been found guilty of a crime, not even accused of any crime, but they’re kept in these places with barbed wire around them, with the cameras everywhere, and they’re only allowed out for some hours of the day,” she said.
Another case in the GCR report describes how two Palestinian men, recognized by the Greek authorities as refugees and legally residing in Kos Island, were arrested by two men in civilian clothes who identified themselves as police officers.
Over the course of the pushback operation the report found the Palestinian men were sexually assaulted, severely beaten, and had documents, phones and money confiscated, the news site said.
They said they were handcuffed, blindfolded with duct tape, dragged on the floor with their legs tied and left in unofficial detention for hours and taken t the port of Kos and sent out to sea on a small half-deflated raft before being rescued by the Turkish Coast Guard – which Greece said lets smugglers operate.
A Greek lawyer, and one of the authors of the report, Kleio Nikolopoulou, said that, “We have presented cases of pushback victims, not just from asylum seekers that try to enter the Evros region or land border with Turkey who want to apply for asylum and seek international protection in Greece, but we also have cases of recognised refugees legally residing in Greece and them being victims of pushback to Turkey. The categories of the victims of pushbacks are vast.”
The report also claimed that the Greek state intimidates, stigmatizes, and criminalizes human rights defenders who support pushback victims, the government insisting it’s been providing decent care for refugees and migrants.
“Legal organisations are being intimidated and targeted by the Greek government, by the Greek authorities. GCR is also one of these legal organisations that is being currently targeted by ascribing hidden political motives in our work, or by linking us with smuggling networks, or by describing us as enemies of the state,” said Nikolopolou.