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Politics

Greece’s Denial of Refugee Pushbacks Faces Human Rights Challenge

ATHENS – An Iranian woman expelled from Greece has filed a complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Committee alleging she was sent across the border six times as the New Democracy government faces renewed claims of pushing back refugees.

In a feature, Al Jazeera correspondent John Psaropoulos reported that a suit accused Greece of expulsion and refoulement, exposing an asylum seeker to danger and possible death, a violation of the Geneva Convention of 1951.

The report said that it may be followed by two more challenges, stepping up the pressure on Greece which has denied Turkish claims that Greek border guards stripped refugees of their shoes and clothes, leading to 19 freezing to death after allegedly being pushed across the land border near the Evros River.

Greece has repeatedly denied accusations of pushbacks made by human rights groups, activists, Turkey’s Coast Guard and major media outlets, including The New York Times and dismissed claims the refugees found frozen were expelled.

“It is Turkey’s responsibility to prevent illegal departures,” said Notis Mitarakis, Greece’s migration minister, referring to an essentially-suspended 2016 swap agreement with the European Union.

Under the deal, Turkey is supposed to contain some 4.4 million refugees and migrants who went there fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands, using the country to get to the EU – which closed its borders.

Since then, Greece has been a main destination and still holds scores of thousands on five islands near Turkey and on the Greek mainland, seeing sanctuary to avoid being sent back under the agreement.

Turkey hasn’t been sanctioned for letting human traffickers keep sending more and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in February, 2020 sent some 10,000 on buses to the land border and urged them to cross.

They were stymied by Greek riot police and army units and Greece has extended a border wall near the river and the government has taken a harder line in trying to keep out refugees and migrants.

“I was pushed back from Greece six times,” said the claimant, identified only as Parvin, a trained psychologist. That was in a videotaped statement released by the Berlin office of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), the legal aid group handling her case, the news site said.

INHUMANE TREATMENT ALLEGED

“A Greek officer arrested me and put me in a dirty cell, in cargo containers, packing us in with no air. Nothing to eat. No toilet. They beat me, kids, and also (a) pregnant woman. They took our cellphone, also our food and clothes. I was handcuffed, beaten, shot at, teargassed, tortured and nearly killed,” she said.

 

The report said that during her first two attempts to cross the border from Turkey to Greece, in February 2020, she managed to keep her mobile phone, and kept video and GPS locations.

The data, included in her lawsuit, have been processed by Forensic Architecture, a research agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London and is said to reveal that she crossed into Greek territory and was held at Neo Heimonio, Iasmos and Soufli police stations, in each of which she filmed her holding cell.

At no location was she processed for deportation, which would have allowed an  opportunity to apply for asylum. At Neo Heimonio, she said she was tied to a chair and tortured, and her life was threatened.

She said her jacket was never returned to her, and the men expelled with her were left with T-shirts in weather barely above freezing temperatures, at some  4 degrees Celsius, 39 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pavlos Eleftheriadis, Professor of Public law at the University of Oxford, told Al Jazeera that, “What’s become very clear is that the Greek government has created black sites, has created a zone of lawlessness along the border. That’s wholly unacceptable,”

Parvin said:“I want to tell my story because I want justice. I want my human rights to be recognized and I want this system to change,” Parvin said, the story adding it’s one of at least 32 others filed in 2021 with the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg.

Panayotis Dimitras, head of the Greek Helsinki Monitor, which litigates against human and minority rights violations, said it was an unprecedented number of cases on the same issue.

“The government has been claiming all around that anyone who says that there are illegal pushbacks is a liar, is an agent of Turkey or is propagating Turkish propaganda,” Dimitras told Al Jazeera. “Is the (European) court propagating Turkish propaganda?”

The Greek Helsinki monitor said that during the past three years, it has sent more than 200 cases of summary expulsion, including torture, rape and robbery, to 20 Greek prosecutors, to the National Agency for Transparency and to the Greek Ombudsman, none resulting in prosecution.

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