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EU Human Rights Body Says Greece Unlawfully Pushing Back Refugees

ATHENS — Contradicting Greece's denials of the practice, The Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, said the New Democracy government is repelling refugees and migrants who want to seek asylum.

She sided with human rights groups and activists and said said there had been "numerous credible allegations" since at least 2017 of refugees and migrants unlawfully returned to Turkey or left adrift at sea.

Turkey is supposed to contain some 4.4 million refugees who went there fleeing war and strife and economic hardships in their countries but has allowed human smugglers to keep sending them to Greece, mostly to five islands.

That's in violation of an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union but Turkey has not only not been penalized nor sanctioned but is in line to be rewarded with another 3 billion euros ($3.64 billion) to hold them.

Turkey already has gotten 3 billion euros from the EU with no report where the money went in a government under the control of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has the final word on what happens there.

UNHCR, the United Nations' refugee agency, has also gathered information pointing to several dozen pushbacks since January 2020, said a letter from Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic.

"I urge you (Greece) to put an end to these practices and to ensure that independent and effective investigations are carried out into all allegations of pushbacks and of ill-treatment by members of security forces," Mijatovic said, the report added.

The Council of Europe, comprised of the heads of state of the 27 members of the bloc, is guardian of the European Convention on Human Rights and creator of the European Court of Human Rights.

In a response also published by Mijatovic's office, Greece said it had investigated the allegations and found them "largely unsubstantiated,” repeating constant denials of any wrongdoing and that no pushbacks had taken place, as Turkey also asserted.

"The actions taken by the Greek authorities, at our sea borders, are being carried out in full compliance with the country's international obligations," Greek ministers were quoted as saying in their response to the Council.

They said Greece had rescued thousands of people since the start of Europe's migrant crisis in 2015 and officers had to do their job "against the backdrop of an unfavorable environment of intended misleading information emanating in most cases from the smugglers' networks".

Going along with other criticisms, Mijatovic also said that living conditions in Greece's overcrowded island camps remained "substandard,” and noted the case of a 28-year-old Somali man on the island of Chios who had died of a pulmonary condition and whose body was marked by suspected rat bites.

"This is a tragic illustration of the horrific conditions in which thousands of people have been living for years on the Greek Aegean islands," Mijatovic also said, although the government has been moving refugees and migrants off islands as residents and officials there want relief from them.

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