7 February 2014

European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström and several Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have urged the Greek government to undertake an independent, thorough and transparent investigations into the tragedy that claimed  the lives of 12 persons, many of whom were children and women, off the Greek island Farmakonisi, on 20 January. The incident follows serious allegations of pushbacks by the Greek coast guards to the Turkish Border.

During the plenary session of the European Parliament held on 5 February, EU Commissioner Malmström said: “We provide Greece with help to deal with this influx: technical help, practical help, human resources help and a considerable amount of financial help. Migrants are getting in these vessels because there are no legal ways to come to Europe. There are very serious allegations of pushbacks and ill treatment of migrants in Greece. We need to shed full light,”

Commissioner Malmström emphasised that respect for human rights needs to be upheld by states at all times, including respect of the principle of non-refoulement, which renders the practice of pushbacks illegal according to EU and International law. There is an urgent need to create legal ways, under the auspices of the post-Stockholm programme, for persons seeking international protection to enter Europe safely in order to avoid having to risk their lives by entering such vessels in the first place – which in 16% of cases sink.

Greek Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos and representative of the Council of the European Union replied to the allegations of illegal pushbacks by Greek coast guards by stating that an independent investigation was underway. “There is a need for more solidarity and an institutional framework for managing immigration flows”, Venizelos added.

In order to better determine what happened during the Greek coastguard operation ECRE Member Pro Asyl urged EU Member States to send competent rescue teams to locate the shipwreck so as to recover the 10 allegedly missing bodies and gather potentially important evidence from the shipwreck. Pro Asyl also demanded that human rights observers should be sent to the Greek-Turkish border and that the Frontex operations in the area be terminated. Pro Asyl argues that it is the responsibility of the European Commission to put pressure on the Greek Presidency of the Council of the European Union by initiating infringement proceedings against Greece and freezing all financial assistance provided to Greece, which is being used to finance and commit these human rights violations.

This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 07 February 2014
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