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Politics

EU Probing Claims Greece, FRONTEX Pushed Back Refugees, Migrants

November 29, 2020

A special European Union committee will look into claims from human rights groups that Greece pushed back refugees and migrants toward Turkey, challenging denials from the government and the bloc's border patrol agency FRONTEX.

Media reports also joined in assertions that the Greek Coast Guard deliberately pushed back dinghies trying to reach Greek islands from Turkey, which has continued to let human smugglers operate during an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the EU.

Turkey is holding some 4.4 million refugees and migrants who went there from other countries fleeing war and strife and economic hardship but let traffickers flood Greek islands since 2015, the numbers falling after the deal.

It's still going on during the COVID-19 pandemic although Greece's New Democracy and Frontex said there's no evidence any were pushed back either by sea or across the northern land border along the Evros River.

The investigation was requested by the representatives of EU member-states and the European Commission at a meeting overseen by Home Affairs chief  Ylva Johansson said Kathimerini, the committee essentially looking into whether Greece and the border patrol are covering up wrongdoing.

The FRONTEX board said it has asked the committee to present its report at the next regular meeting on Jan. 20-21 as the reports of pushbacks keep persisting from rights groups and government critics.

Earlier in November, a report from the Council of Europe – Europe's human rights arm – said Greece must stop pushing back migrants, a practice that FRONTEX said didn't happen.

There are diverging accusations and denials over alleged pushbacks in which Greece's New Democracy government has allowed the Coast Guard and law enforcement officials to allegedly put migrants on boats and shove them out to sea or smuggle them across land borders into Turkey.

The Council of Europe is an international organization with 47 members, which include all European countries and former Soviet states, except Belarus and is apart from the 27-member EU.

Human rights groups and activists, as well as media reports – including The New York Times and in The Guardian – have also said that pushbacks have been ongoing but didn't blame Turkey for violating an essentially-suspended swap deal with the EU.

Turkey has continued to allow human traffickers to keep sending refugees and migrants, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, to Greek islands and in February sent 10,000 to the land border along the Evros River and urged them to cross before they were stymied by Greek riot police and army units.

The report was prepared by the Council's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) and said some of its members visited Greece from March 13-17, the period when the land border was being besieged.

The delegation visited police and border guard establishments in Evros and the island of Samos and the Malakasa detention camp and held a video conference with Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarakiks and his deputy, Giorgos Koumoutsakos, said Kathimerini in a report on the findings.

The report said that “the CPT acknowledges the significant challenges faced by the Greek authorities in dealing with large numbers of migrants entering the country,” and that migration “requires a coordinated European approach” but added that “this cannot absolve the Greek State from their human rights obligations.” Greece has denied there's been any pushbacks.

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