An appeals committee has rejected the return of a vulnerable Afghan family, ruling that Turkey could not be considered a safe third country for them. Systematic violent pushbacks by Greek authorities continue as the parliament has approved legislation preventing NGO oversight.

A second instance decision of the Greek asylum procedure prevented the return of a extremely vulnerable Afghan family under the controversial Joint Ministerial Decision (JMD).  The JMD deems Turkey a safe third country for the main refugee-producing countries of Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The appeals court took into consideration the particular vulnerability of the family and lack of access to support in Turkey. The family included an 83-year-old man with symptoms of dementia and hearing loss, and a 61-year old woman in a wheelchair, unable to speak or support herself and wearing a diaper. According to her 15-year old daughter, she had survived beatings by the Taliban, two strokes, and suffered from quadriplegia. Further, her father had been imprisoned for 18 months by the Taliban and was released only after paying a ransom. “While this cannot be interpreted as a direct challenge to the JMD, the decision is nonetheless significant as it upholds the obligation to individually assess every case, indicating that the JMD cannot be applied automatically”, said ECRE Legal Officer Stavros Papageorgopoulos.

Despite harsh critique by NGOs and appeals from the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner, the Greek parliament approved a law imposing severe restrictions and conditions on organisations active in competence areas of the Hellenic Coast Guard.  The legislation de facto prevents NGOs from providing life-saving support and monitoring human rights abuse along the Greek borders. Meanwhile, reports of violent pushbacks continue to mount. According to lawyer Dimitris Choulis, a group of 25 people were detained and robbed by Greek police and pushed back to Turkish waters by the Hellenic coast guard on 29 August after arriving in Samos. Several local eyewitnesses confirmed the incident. Aegean Boat Report published information on several incidents on 2 and 3 September of 83 people left drifting off Samos by the Hellenic coast guard and over 60 people picked up by the Turkish coast guard off Lesvos after being “abandoned at sea, in two life rafts, by the Hellenic coast guard”. On 5 September, 85 people onboard a sailboat adrift off the island of Folegandros were towed away by a larger vessel from the Hellenic coast guard. Reportedly, some people jumped from the sailboat in an attempt to swim ashore during the incident. Local media report that the location of the people towed remain unknown. A local resident was requested by the Hellenic coast guard to delete photos of the incident and referring to orders from the ministry when asked about the reason for towing the boat. A coast guard officer first denied knowledge of the incident when confronted by a journalist and then said he had no information. In the Evros region a group eight people have been stranded on an island between Turkey and Greece for five days while authorities on both sides remain unresponsive. One person has reportedly died from dehydration and starvation and one is in critical condition.

On the Greek side of the northeastern land border with Turkey, border guards apprehended a man believed to have entered Greece irregularly with a gunshot wound in his leg. The man was referred to a local hospital for treatment.

For further information:

Photo: ECRE

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.