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Welcoming Ukrainians, Greece Urged to Stop Pushing Back Others

ATHENS – While Greece has opened its arms and door to 5,421 Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion – and counting – Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the New Democracy government has been pushing back others from Afghanistan, Syria, and sub-Saharan Africa.

HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth said Greece should not pretend that only Ukrainians are the “real refugees,” reported Turkey’s pro-government newspaper The Daily Sabah.

Turkey, in violation of an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union has been allowing human traffickers to keep sending more refugees to Greece, primarily islands near Turkey’s coast.

They went to Turkey fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands and while initially welcomed, Greece is now trying to keep them out, with the Conservative government taking a hard line.

That allegedly included pushing them back into the sea and across land borders, which Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Greek authorities decried as a lie, despite widespread evidence including witnesses.

That tough stance was cited by HRW as the opposite of Greece accepting Ukrainians, including ethnic Greeks, with other critics of the government complainting that only white and Orthodox and Europeans are welcome.

In criticism directed at Interior Minister Makis Voridis, known for his far-right wing and anti-immigrant stances before joining New Democracy, Roth tweeted about refugees that, “All deserve protection without falsely claiming it’s ‘safe’ for them elsewhere.”

That was in reference to Greece declaring that Turkey is a safe country for the return of refugees although Turkey has largely ignored the EU deal requiring the country to take back those denied asylum, not accepting them.

Greece has also extended a border wall on border with Turkey along the Evros River and has been trying to keep out any more refugees and migrants, with dozens drowning in the attempt to reach Greek islands since late 2021.

Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi was criticized in Parliament for saying those fleeing Ukraine “are war refugees, these are real refugees,” not mentioning that there are war refugees from Syria and Afghanistan.

Major opposition SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, whose government opened the country to refugees and migrants during its 4 1/2-year reign that ended on a loss to New Democracy in July, 2018 snap elections, was equally critical.

QUESTION OF COLOR

He said that it was “shameful (to hear that) refugees from Ukraine are real, but dark-skinned ones are not,” as activists joined in the chorus of complaint that Greece especially doesn’t want Muslims or non-Christians.

HRW earlier put out a written statement saying that “Greece should know that refugees can come from anywhere. Greece uses the need to fight against ‘trafficking’ and the semblance of safety in Turkey as excuses to justify its heavy-handed and often abusive immigration control methods, including violent and unlawful pushbacks at its external borders with Turkey.”

The group said that multiple reports from rights groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) “expose how Greek law enforcement officers detain, assault, rob and strip asylum seekers and migrants before forcing them back to Turkey.”

“The Greek government routinely denies involvement in pushbacks, while cracking down on those who report them,” it noted, which Greece has repeatedly and vehemently denied happened.

HRW said that, Greece is right to show solidarity with refugees fleeing Ukraine. But this moment should prompt a fundamental shift in Greece’s approach to dealing with people fleeing similar conflicts in other parts of the world and an end to Greece’s violent and abusive border polices that put refugees in harm’s way.”

Filippo Grandi, head of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in February cited reports that Greece was involved in nearly 540 incidents of pushing back refugees and migrants at land and sea borders with Turkey since 2020.

There was no mention of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in February, 2020 sending some 10,000 refugees and migrants – Turkey is holding some 4.4 million of them – to the Evros River border.

They were urged by Turkey to try to get across but were repelled by Greek riot police and army units and Greece has added to border patrols with complaints from critics it includes para-military type squads.

Grandi said that in some pushebacks that migrants were reportedly “left adrift in life rafts or sometimes even forced directly into the water, showing a callous lack of regard for human life.”

 

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