ATHENS – Repeating allegations denied by Greece’s ruling New Democracy government – which is trying to keep out refugees and migrants – a joint media investigation reported that some asylum seekers are being forced to repel others trying to enter the country, sometimes violently.
The probe was conducted by the British newspaper The Guardian, Lighthouse Reports, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and ARD Report München which said it had obtained visual evidence to back up testimony from those who said they were compelled to take part in pushbacks.
The report also said it had documents confirming the detention of those allegedly used in pushbacks who said they responded to the Facebook group Consolidated Rescue group, which had asked people to speak out on the practice Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said isn’t happening.
Reports of pushbacks have multiplied since February 2020 when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – whose country is holding some 4.4 million refugees and migrants from other countries under an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union – sent 10,000 to the land border with Greece along the Evros River and urged them to cross.
They were stymied by Greek riot police and army units who used tear gas while the refugees and migrants tossed Molotov Cocktails back over a fence at the Greek patrols, the situation getting tense before COVID-19 hit a month later.
Refugees and migrants, more than a million, began coming in 2015 through Turkey, fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands, primarily Syria and Afghanistan.
The EU closed its borders to them, most opting to try to reach five Greek islands near Turkey’s coast, first welcomed there by residents but now unwelcome, people grown weary of trying to help for seven years.
Residents in border villages talked openly of the asylum seekers, usually masked, who “work” for police, and two senior Greek officers confirmed the practice of using third-country nationals as proxies in pushbacks, the report said.
The EU border patrol Frontex was accused by human rights groups and activists of helping push back the refugees and trying to cover it up, leading to the agency’s head Fabrice Leggeri – who denied it – stepping down anyway.
The asylum seekers allegedly coerced into the pushbacks on the border said it happens in the dead of night and that they are kept locked up until put into use, saying they were lured into action with police by a Syrian man and also made to put refugees and migrants on boats and carry them across the river to Turkey.
Six migrants, Syrian and Moroccan, said they took part in operations along the Evros River, whose treacherous currents have claimed many lives of refugees and migrants trying to cross.
They said in return they got a police note allowing them to stay in Greece for a month but said they were really “slaves” forced to work with authorities under duress themselves.
They said they witnessed Greek police strip, rob and assault asylum seekers before they were put back into overcrowded inflatable boats that the men were then ordered to transport them across the river, the report added.
One of them, identified by a false name, told the news groups that, “This work is very dangerous, also because of the enmity between the Greeks and the Turks,”and asylum seekers are used to avoid confrontations with Turkish security forces against Greek border guards.