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Politics

In Sponsored Content, The Guardian Says Greece Pushed Back Refugee

November 18, 2020

LONDON — Days after the European Union's border agency Frontex said there was no evidence Greece had pushed back refugees and migrants, a sponsored story in The Guardian said it was happening and that lawyers would file a case to the United Nations human rights committee.

The story, funded by Humanity United, which said it's a foundation "dedicated to cultivating the conditions for enduring freedom and peace" said the case involved one person, a Syrian living in Germany, who said he was picked up and sent to Turkey while he searched for his brother in Greece.

He told The Guardian that he had been detained and forced into a boat to Turkey in November 2016. His papers were confiscated which meant he was not able to return to Germany, where he had been granted asylum, for three years.

He wasn't named but the story said he flew to Greece after he heard that his 11-year-old brother had tried to follow him to Europe but had disappeared crossing the border from Turkey to Greece.

“All I could think about was my brother,” he said. He claimed he went to a small town in the Evros River region on the border with Turkey where his brother had last been seen and showed his photo in hopes of gaining a lead on his whereabouts.

That's when, he said, that three police officers picked him up and took him to a detention center, confiscated his identification papers, strip-searched him and put him in a cell with around 50 other detainees . 

He said he saw families with children in one cell, and he also identified German-speaking officers at his detention. The man said that late at night he was taken by authorities to the border with other detainees and put on a small boat across the river to Turkey where they were picked up by the military there.

He said he was able to reach the German Embassy in Constantinople and explain how he ended up there without explaining whether he had told German speaking officers where he said he was detained in Greece.

He said it still took him three years to get his documents reissued but it wasn't said how he lived during that period and that he tried to get back to Greece but was returned to Turkey 11 times.

He said he finally got to Athens – he didn't say how – and survived on handouts from strangers found a lawyer through Greek NGO Human Rights 360, and returned to Germany in 2019.

“There are so many people who are oppressed and face great injustice … others should know about this,” he said. He still hopes to hear news of his young brother, who remains missing. There was no explanation why the story was coming out only now. 

Amanda Brown, a researcher at the Global Legal Action Network (Glan) who has worked on the case, said it was “an emblematic and aggravated example of Greece’s clandestine deportation apparatus,” with no proof. 

Forensic Architecture, based at the University of London, has digitally recreated the alleged pushbacks from Greece to Turkey. “Our research confirms that pushbacks in the Evros/Meriç border are both systematic and widespread,” said Stefanos Levidis, project coordinator at Forensic Architecture.

“What emerges is a picture of a violent practice where beatings are customary, at times amounting to torture, and which relies on a wide network of state and EU border defense infrastructure as well as the deadly river landscape itself,” he said, but there's no other evidence supporting the claims yet.

The Guardian said Supported Content accepts funding from third parties but that it keeps the right of journalistic independence although a paying client “may have a role in suggesting what kind of topics are covered.”

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