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Greece Accused of Forcing Asylum Seekers to Turkey, Activists Complain

Αssociated Press

FILE- A Turkish soldier walks near migrants as they gather at a border fence on the Turkish side during clashes with the Greek riot police at the Turkish-Greek border in Pazarkule, Edirne region, on Saturday, March 7, 2020.(AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

Media reports have claimed that Greek police, stepping up tougher measures against refugees and migrants with more than 100,000 in the country, are collecting them to be sent back to Turkey where they had gone fleeing war and strife in their homelands before getting to Greece to seek asylum.

The Wall Street Journal cited the case of Nadeem Kohistani, 18, from Afghanistan, who said he was at a migrant camp for more than two months and accused police of handcuffing him and driving him more than 200 miles back to the Turkish border and forcing him to get on a smuggler’s boat to cross the Evros River on the northern land border.

He said he and other migrants showed the police their Greek o?cial documents indicating they had applied for sanctuary but that they were removed anyway, also claiming they were beaten and had their cellphones and money taken.

“At the river they said, ‘This is where we drop you, go to the river and go outside of Greece,’” Kohistani said. He said he and the other migrants had no choice.

At least 250 asylum seekers have been forcibly expelled from Greece since late March, according to cases documented by the Border Violence Monitoring Network, a nongovernmental organization that documents information on European countries’ pushbacks of migrants, the paper said.

Simon Campbell, a ?eld coordinator with the network, said he believes the real number is bigger but that many migrants sent back to Turkey don’t speak out without explaining why they don’t nor why Greek police would try to return a handful given how many are in Greece.

Greek government o?cials denied all reports of extrajudicial deportations but didn’t answer speci?c questions regarding the allegations by migrants and human-rights groups, the paper also said although human rights activists accused the New Democracy government of using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse for what they called abuses.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ government had suspended asylum applications on March 1 as the virus struck and Turkey was trying to push 10,000 migrants across the border by the river before pulling them back after Greece closed its side and sent riot police and Army units to repel them.

Turkey has also been since 2016, when it signed with the European Union a now essentially-suspended swap deal, allowing human traffickers to keep sending refugees and migrants to five Greek islands near the Turkish coast, some 38,000 held in camps.

The roundup and pushbacks, the paper said, have stepped up and targeted asylum seekers in the country for months as well as those who arrived after March 1 and were to be quickly deported to their homelands, a number of other reports said as well.

Germany’s state-run Deutsche Welle (DW) news agency also reported Greek authorities are unlawfully refugees across the Turkish border. As part of an international research team, the agency met some of the victims who were forced back, the report said.

DW said a 22-year-old Afghanman named Bakhtyar said he was put in a van and taken to a police station in Thessaloniki on the promise of getting documents but said all his belongings were taken, he was taken to another station and beaten, put onto the back of a truck and taken to the Turkish border at the Evros.

He said there were groups of other asylum seekers being loaded into rubber dinghies 10 at a time to be sent back onto the Turkish side.

DW said it worked with the Dutch news publication Trouw,?media nonprofit Lighthouse Reports, and the independent verification collective Bellingcat and verified similar stories of roundups and deportations, all denied by the Greek government.

“Most of them are from Afghanistan, some of them are from Pakistan and North Africa. They were either arrested in the Greek camp of Diavata or picked up seemingly at random by local police near the camp,” the report said, adding they were mostly males under 30. 

“It’s not a deportation, it’s an illegal pushback,” Dimitris Koros, a lawyer with the Greek Council for Refugees told the Wall Street Journal.  “It’s illegal according to the Geneva convention and Greek law.”

Koros said he and his group have collected testimonies from around 10 migrants who say they were recently forcibly expelled from deep inside Greece, most of them from Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Africa as well as Syria and Iraq.

Koros said Greek police are targeting migrants and refugees who haven’t o?cially ?led an asylum claim but also those with police papers allowing them a 30-day stay if they will apply for asylum and who aren’t supposed to be deported without due process.