A Human Rights Watch report notes an increase in arrivals in 2023 and far-right violence against people on the move. Shipwrecks, distress alerts and pushbacks continue in 2024 on the migratory routes to Greece. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) condemns Greek authorities over the degrading conditions of a single young woman and published its communication to the Greek government on four cases of rights violations. The trial of 16 humanitarian workers charged with misdemeanours has resumed.
Human Rights Watch’s annual report on the situation of migrants and asylum seekers in Greece states that over 38,400 asylum seekers and migrants arrived by sea and land between January and early November 2023, compared with 18,780 in 2022 despite the increased violence against people on the move and tightening of borders. The report notes 74 incidents of racist violence in 2022 as reported by the Racist Violence Recording Network despite general underreporting of it. Moreover, it also highlighted the escalation of racial violence in Evros against asylum seekers and migrants “whom vigilantes accused, without presenting evidence, of being responsible for forest fires” while far right attacks on migrants continued.
2024 has started with more shipwrecks, distress alerts and pushbacks en route to Greece. On the night of 11 January, a boat carrying 46 people, including 21 children, reportedly landed in Lesvos. According to Aegean Boat Report (ABR), the group hid in the woods fearing the Greek authorities and contacted the organisation to seek assistance. ABR reported that it provided the people with the necessary support and information, stating that “the group was eventually found and transported to the RIC on Lesvos”. On 10 January, the bodies of a woman and a man were recovered by the Hellenic Coastguard after their boat hit a rocky shore close to the island of Lesvos. 30 other migrants were rescued. The migrants are believed to have reached the island on a boat amid high winds in the Aegean Sea, a coastguard official said, adding that, according to migrants’ accounts, approximately 36 people had been on board and some had jumped into the sea. On 9 January, Alarm Phone reported that approximately 16 people were in need of urgent assistance near the city of Chios due to the freezing weather conditions and medical emergencies. “Hellenic coastguard informed us they had found them and they would be transferred to the camp. Though we haven’t been able to confirm if they arrived there or not”, the hotline added. On 8 January, seven people were reportedly in need of rescue but also fearing a pushback. The Greek authorities later confirmed to Alarm Phone that the group was rescued and transferred to the camp. On 7 January, a shipwreck involving 21 refugees and migrants occurred off Rhodes, in Turkish territorial waters. According to the Turkish coastguard, 18 people had been rescued and a joint search operation with the Hellenic Coastguard to locate the missing was ongoing. According to state television, so far there has been no result in locating the missing at the time of writing the article. On 6 January, Alarm Phone communicated the presence of a boat in distress carrying around 38 people in the Greek waters, close to Lesvos. The hotline wrote on X: “This morning Greek authorities told us they searched but never found the boat and that a rescue took place in Turkish waters”, adding “The Turkish Coast Guard informed us that they found the boat, but that people fell in the water during the rescue. Until now, 3 people remain missing”. The Turkish authorities later confirmed that everyone in the group had been rescued. On 5 January, Alarm Phone received a distress alert from a group of around 17 people after their arrival on Chios. “Last night the Hellenic coastguard confirmed that they found 17 people we believe to be this group. The police would not tell us if the group had been taken to the camp on Chios” the organisation added. On the same day, Alarm Phone received a distress alert from a group of 30 people, including women and children, who were panicking as water was entering their boat. The group was later pushed back by the Greek coastguard, the organisation added.
Greece continues to receive condemnations from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) over its violations of refugee rights. On 27 November and 18 December 2023 respectively, the Court published its communication to the Greek government about four cases of a group of women, men and children who were prevented from seeking asylum due to Greece’s decision to suspend access and who had received removal decisions. ECRE member organisation HIAS Greece, which represented the plaintiffs stated that “All of them were also detained in a military vessel together with approximately 500 other asylum-seekers, in disregard for their vulnerabilities and physical and mental health conditions, in extremely filthy and overcrowded conditions, and without access to sanitation facilities and hygiene products, adequate food, clothing and healthcare. Additionally, no COVID-19 measures had been put in place, exposing them to a heightened risk for COVID-19”. Additionally, on 30 November, the ECtHR ruled against Greece for violation of articles 3 and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) concerning the case of a single young woman in search of international protection who was deprived of security and privacy, and suffered from inhuman and degrading living conditions whilst living in the overcrowded camp of Samos,. According to ECRE member Greek Council of Refugees, which represented the young woman, the Court noted that the Greek authorities had placed the applicant in an inappropriate and unsafe place for a young single woman in 2018 and again the following year. It also noted that the authorities “did not do everything that could reasonably be expected of them to ensure decent material conditions for the applicant”.
Meanwhile, the criminalisation of solidarity with migrants in Greece continues. A new trial against the 16 humanitarian workers for misdemeanour charges started on 9 January after six years and three trials. The Free Humanitarians group wrote on X: “Trial finally proceeded, for the first time evidence is assessed. It means the 16 defendants still on trial can be found innocent, rather than in 2023, when charges were dismissed because of procedural errors made by the prosecution.” Lawyers for the defendants stated the case emphasising that “there is no legal or substantial basis for the charges”. Their motion for the charges against the non-Greek to be dismissed on the basis that “there was no Greek translation in the indictments” was unsuccessful as the Court stated that “there was not sufficient evidence that they could not understand Greek”. Additionally, the testimony of the first prosecution witness, the port officer who arrested two defendants in a car in February 2018, was interrupted by the judge who asked him “about the charge of espionage against the 16 being tried now, and if he had anything to say about it.” The port worker said that he had found two radios in the car but that he did not know anything about communications at sea between boats and channels used to communicate between the European Border and Coastguard Agency (Frontex) and the Hellenic Coastguard. Despite the closure of questioning by the prosecutor and judge, the defendants’ lawyers repeated their questions but the port worker often responded either that he was not permitted to respond due to the confidentiality of information or that he did not know anything. ECRE member organisation Fenix Legal Aid expressed “concern” about the new trial and the “the bigger trend of criminalisation of migration and those who express solidarity with people in search of safety it reflects” stating that “Several human rights organisations and bar associations have emphasised the severe lack of legal basis for the charges facing the 16 humanitarian workers on trial”. The trial resumed on 12 January, and both the prosecution and defence continued to present their witnesses.
For further information:
- ECRE, Greece: Decrease in Arrivals Amidst Ongoing Pushbacks and Ill-treatment of Refugees; Rights Organisations Denounce Lack of Credible Investigation into Pylos Tragedy Amid Ongoing Calls for Accountability; Türkiye Opens a “New Era” of Co-operation with Greece After Years of Tension, December 2023
- ECRE, Greece: Ombudsman Opens Investigation into Deadly Pylos Shipwreck Amidst Ongoing Deadly Crossings, NGOs Demand Humane Reception Conditions, “Nothing unusual” Says Commission President Defending Her Summer Holiday at Greek PM’s Villa, November 2023