BRUSSELS — Months after constant claims by activists and media reports that Greece has been unlawfully pushing migrants back in the sea and land borders, the Europen Union called for an investigation into whether it's happening.
Greece's New Democracy government, which has taken a hard line on refugees and migrants getting in since being elected in July 7, 2019 snap elections, ousting the former Radical Left SYRIZA which had an essential open door policy has denied doing it.
The EU said it wants a similar probe of allegations that Croatia has been doing the same, said the Reuters news agency, citing a report by German media outlets Der Spiegel and ARD which said they have documented pushbacks, some said to be violently conducted by special forces of both countries who concealed their identities.
“Some of these reports are shocking,” the EU’s Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said, before she was due to meet the Interior Ministers of Greece and Croatia to get their side of the story.
She said the reports seemed credible that migrants on the EU’s borders were being subjected systematically to violence and that bloc funds were being used to do it, calling it “unacceptable.”
The German media report said it had video footage of 11 pushbacks by Croatian police into Bosnia and also evidence including footage of the Greek Coast Guard forcing migrants back into the Aegean Sea as alleged by human rights groups and Turkey, which has allowed human traffickers to keep sending them.
Under an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the EU that has greatly reduced the numbers coming to Greece, mostly to five Aegean islands, Turkey is supposed to contain some 4.4 million refugees and migrants who went there fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands.
Reuters said it had not independently verified the allegations that have been repeated by a number of activist groups and major media and investigative journalism outlets, all rejected by Greece.
Croatia’s Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic said the police would conduct an investigation but said that Croatian border police acted in line with the law and did not tolerate any abuse of authority.
Greece's Migration Ministry again denied any incidents of pushbacks although there have been videos alleging showing them, a practice unlawful under international law which allows people to seek asylum without being forced to back to where their lives could be in danger.
That, like many laws that don't suit goverments, are often set aside for national interests and with no reports the EU has acted to do anything about it other than tweet concern or send out press releases.
The EU closed its borders to refugees and migrants, dumping the problem largely on Greece as well as Italy, Spain and Malta which all can be reached by sea and the bloc's regulations allow them to seek asylum only in the first country in which they arrive, which can't be center Europe.
Poland, Lithuania and Latvia have allowed their border guards to push back refugees and migrants after a sharp increase in crossings from neighboring Belarus from Iraq, Afghanistan, Cameroon and Congo and gone unpunished.
Johansson said there was no evidence of an increase in Afghan arrivals to the 27-nation EU “just yet” since the country fell to the murderous rule of the Taliban despite waves another wave would be coming.
“We know the situation in Afghanistan is very dire… there is a huge risk of famine,” Johansson said, adding the bloc must step up humanitarian assistance on the ground as well, said Reuters.