ATHENS – Already dealing with allegations of pushing back refugees – which it denied – Greece now faces complaints that border guards beat and robbed them, stealing more than €2.2 million ($2.32 million in cash and valuables from them.
The Spanish newspaper El Pais, adding its voice to that of human rights groups, activists and other major media, said pushbacks had gone on along the Turkish border at the Evros River.
The newspaper said the refugees and migrants had cash taken as well as jewelry and mobile phones and that they were beaten if resisting, , the amount of stolen cash is not only based on money allegedly taken SchengenVisaInfo.com reported.
The amount could be far higher, the report said, claiming there was theft from other pushbacks that were never reported, the New Democracy government saying the reports are false despite testimony from alleged victims.
The newspaper said its estimated included information from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other sources near the border which weren’t identified, and that the problem is worsening.
Eva Cosse, a researcher at Human Rights Watch told El Pais that stealing mobile phones as well as money from migrants was primarily intended to halt them from future unlawful border crossings.
“When you take away their phones, you get rid of any evidence that they were there. When you take their money, you make their lives more difficult,” she also pointed out, but didn’t offer any evidence.
The government said it wants to keep out refugees and migrants who’ve been coming since 2015, most of them fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands and using Turkey as a jumping-off point.
Turkey is supposed to contain some 4.4 million of them under an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union but has allowed human traffickers to keep sending them, without being sanctioned.
The analyst for Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN), Hope Barker, said that sometimes authorities keep cell phones, and sometimes they destroy them. “But they definitely keep the money. And if they find that someone has been hiding their money, they’ll typically beat them more as a punishment,” she said.
Data provided by the Greek National Commissioner for Human Rights said that in 2022 some 93 percent of refugees and migrants allegedly pushed back – the government said they weren’t – said they were robbed and subjected to violence.
Citizens Protection Minister Takis Theodorikakos, previously said that the Greek Police blocked 154,102 illegal migrants from entering from the beginning of 2022 until September last year, the report added.
He said human smugglers are working with Turkey’s government to keep sending refugees and migrants, many to five islands near Turkey’s coast, although the numbers have lessened.
Greece is responding with stepped-up patrols in the Aegean, aided by the EU’s border patrol Frontex, and is extending a border wall along the Evros River line and adding electronic surveillance and other deterrents.