ATHENS – Greece is still denying reports of pushing back refugees and migrants but the The European Union’s top migration official apparently doesn’t believe it, warning that the practice has to stop or that funds from the bloc will cease.
“Protecting EU external border from illegal entry is an obligation. Violent and illegal deportations of migrants must stop, now,” EU’s Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said after meeting Greek government ministers.
She said that the New Democray government agreed to have a new system in place in September to protect the rights of asylum seekers, reported Al Jazeera but no details were given and no explanation why as it involves public money.
There was no response from Greek officials , the news site said after Johansson said that, “Funding is linked to EU fundamental rights being correctly applied,” but didn’t say how much would be cut off or what programs would be affected.
Greece’s government has stepped up attempts to keep out refugees and migrants most coming from Turkey which allows human traffickers to keep sending them during an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the EU.
Human rights, groups, activists, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and major media investigative reports all claimed that Greece is violently pushing back refugees and migrants but Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that’s fiction.
The complaints have come as well from Turkey’s Coast Guard, which is supposed to contain refugees and migrants and as Turkey is not being sanctioned for letting them keep coming to Greece, mostly to five Aegean islands but also along the northern land border by the Evros River.
Migration Minister Notis Mitarachis told Parliament that the EU also needed to do more to ensure boats were not crossing over from Turkey although the bloc’s border patrol Frontex was accused of being complicit with Greece by critics.
“Greece would expect an even more active role of EU institutions in calling Turkey to abide by its commitments,” he said. “According to a considerable number of testimonies from asylum seekers, Turkish authorities are actively encouraging illegal departures.”
About 47,000 people arrived by sea in Italy, Greece, Spain, Cyprus and Malta so far this year, the United Nations refugee agency said, the numbers falling during the COVID-19 pandemic but still going on.
Turkey’s pro-government newspaper The Daily Sabah, that’s a propaganda mouthpiecefor President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reported that human rights groups demonstrated against pushbacks, gathering on the island of Lesbos, a prime spot for refugees and migrants,
“Pushbacks kill people” and “Burn borders” were some of the slogans on the placards they held on signs, the report said, the newspaper not mentioning Turkey’s role in sending refugees and migrants into the seas and the land border.
Greek Shipping Minister Giannis Plakiotakis also denied Greece is pushing back refugees and governments, sticking to the government line despite widespread accusations that included photos, videos and eyewitness testimony.
“The first priority is protecting lives, in line with international law,” said Plakiotakis, adding that Greece’s Coast Guard has rescued tens of thousands of people in the seas that Turkey sent.
The Turkish Coast Guard Command said earlier in June that it had saved 33,964 migrants in 1,295 pushback incidents carried out by the Greek Coast Guard since 2020 but didn’t offer proof beyond assertions.