ATHENS – More than seven years after what became more than a million refugees and migrants fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands, primarily Syria and Afghanistan, began using Greece to get to other European Union destinations, the government has had enough.
From extending a wall along the northern border with Turkey – the launching spot for them – to stepped-up patrols in the Aegean to keep them from reaching islands, the New Democracy government is trying to keep them out.
That, claimed human rights groups, activists and major media sites, has included what they said were unlawful pushbacks – which the government denied – but which has brought pressure on the plan to exclude them.
Lawyer Evgenia Kouniaki told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that unrelenting pressure by the government on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) trying to aid refugees and migrants led her to quit her position at one of them in protest.
Kouniaki told AFP there were once up to 10 people in the Evros region helping victims of alleged pushbacks although Turkey, the jumping-off spot for them, hasn’t been sanctioned by the European Union for continuing to let human traffickers keep sending them.
That’s in violation of an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the EU which has seen Turkey’s government and Coast Guard claim that Greece is pushing back refugees and migrants that Turkish authorities are rescuing.
Greece’s government said it had to put clamps on the numbers coming, which dwindled during the waning COVID-1 pandemic, because the EU has dumpe the problem largely on the country after closing its borders to them.
“Now we are fewer and fewer,” she said, complaining that she has received less legal work because of her involvement in the sensitive case of Syrian refugees stranded on an islet on the Evros River which led Greece and Turkey to duel over the responsibility for them..
Some 50 humanitarian workers are currently facing prosecution in Greece for allegedly aiding traffickers to get refugees and migrants into the country, their defense being they were saving them.
“Greek authorities are engaging in a witch-hunt targeting refugees, but also their defenders,” 16 rights groups said, including the prominent NGOs Refugee Support Aegean, the Greek Council for Refugees and the Greek League for Human Rights.
“I will not work with NGOs that undermine the national interest,” Deputy Migration Minister Sofia Voultepsi told state TV ERT in September.
“There are very few NGOs left in Greece,” Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi told Skai TV. “Among those operating in 2015-2019, the great majority have left the country on their own accord,” he said.