BRUSSELS — Human rights group Amnesty International said Wednesday that the practice of migrant pushbacks in Greece has become so bad that even people who have applied for asylum and been in the country for some time are being summarily picked up and deported.
Charity groups and media outlets routinely accuse Greek authorities and the EU's border agency Frontex of denying people their right to apply for asylum – which is illegal under EU law and refugee treaties – often in the Aegean Sea between Turkey and the Greek islands.
Greece and Frontex strenuously deny conducting such pushbacks.
But Amnesty said in a new report that pushbacks have become so "entrenched" that it has documented four cases "where people affected had a registered protection status in Greece or had been in the country days or weeks before, and were apprehended well inland."
One case concerned a Syrian man who registered as an asylum seeker in Greece in late 2019. He was arrested in the northwest port city of Igoumenitsa last July. He said police confiscated and destroyed his asylum card. He was put on a bus and taken to a detention center before being sent to Turkey.
Amnesty said a young Syrian couple traveling with two small children were also detained at a refugee facility near Drama in northern Greece. They were taken to a "detention center" or "police station" where their belongings were confiscated, and later sent back across Greece's land border with Turkey.
The rights group said that "these returns have an enormous impact on the individuals and the community: they are tearing people away from one another after they have found what they thought was safety."
It also heard testimony from some people forced to leave by crossing the Evros River on the Greece-Turkey border that Turkish authorities, in turn, tried to prevent them from crossing into Turkish territory.
Amnesty called on the European Commission to launch infringement proceedings against Greece "for its violation of EU asylum and fundamental rights law."
It appealed to the Turkish authorities to "halt all practices forcing or pressuring individuals to return to Greece, including through the use of threats or violence and conduct prompt, independent, impartial, and effective investigations into all such allegations."