The recovery of an additional three bodies after a recent shipwreck in the Aegean Sea has sparked renewed calls from UN agencies for safe and legal pathways. The Greek government remains defiant as new reports of pushbacks continue to emerge. Top EU official declares “not only are we entirely aware of the situation in Greece, we are basically together with Greece in its management”.

Three more bodies have been recovered after a recent deadly shipwreck off the island of Evia in the Aegean Sea, bringing the total death toll to 26. Among the victims are five children including three boys and two girls. Another 31 people remain missing. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have reiterated their call for safe and legal pathways to Greece. “Every life lost is one too many. Tragic deaths at sea and further suffering are avoidable but only with concerted action and international cooperation to find viable solutions,” said Maria Clara Martin, UNHCR Representative in Greece. “The need to save lives and prevent more tragedies should be a priority driving international efforts to promote safe migration pathways which can minimize the risk of migrants dying or going missing,” said Gianluca Rocco, Chief of IOM Mission in Greece. World Socialist Website published a statement on 4 November, stating: “No systematic data is kept by the EU or any European country on the numbers of refugees being drowned or arrested and deprived of their democratic rights in the Mediterranean and Aegean. It is left to organisations such as the Aegean Boat Report group, with limited resources, to compile information and document the horrific treatment of refugees”.

Meanwhile, incidents continue in the Aegean. According to Aegean Boat Report, on 4 November a group of 25 people had arrived to Lesvos and dispersed into groups and went into hiding due to fear of being pushed back by Greek authorities – ten were found by local NGOs and taken to a camp in Megala Therma and 15 remained missing. On 9 November, Aegean Boat Report reported of 24 people including ten children arriving in the north of Lesvos and after hiding to avoid pushbacks by Greek authorities the organisation was able to assist them in reaching a camp in Megala Therma. The organisation further reported of the disappearance of 104 people attempting to reach Italy from Türkiye on 31 October under suspicious circumstances after being towed by the Hellenic Coast Guard. The local media, Efsyn investigating the incident received only vague and general responses to their requests for information from the guard leaving the outlet suspicious and demanding transparency from Greek authorities. Since March 2020, the Aegean Boat Report has registered 1,742 pushback cases in the Aegean Sea, performed by the Hellenic coast guard, involving 46,443 men, women and children.

The Greek government remains defiant in the face of ever-mounting evidence of pushbacks. Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi recently used a NATO assembly to call on Türkiye – a partner in the alliance – to prevent “illegal” departures from its shores and decided to comment on the ongoing stand-off in Italy over the countries’ attempts to block disembarkations. “In the Mediterranean, we notice that there are a number of ships from NGOs, mainly with the flags of Germany and Norway. The Italians have raised the question of whether these NGOs protect lives or give incentives to traffickers who start from Libya. There must be a European solution” (translated from Greek), the minister said. Journalist covering refugee issues, Katy Fallon commented: “A clear emerging criminalised discourse across Europe. These SAR boats pull people from water who have fled Libya”. The EU however, according to European Commission Vice President stands shoulder to shoulder with the Greek government. In an interview with a Greek outlet, Kathimerini Margaritis Schinas stated: “those who want to make Greece and Europe appear at odds over the migration issue have the wrong end of the stick, because not only are we entirely aware of the situation in Greece, we are basically together with Greece in its management”. The EU official further underlined that the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) – recently under scrutiny for covering up violations in Greece – has the largest mission in Europe in the country. Researcher, Lena K, stated in response: “It seems we have official confirmation that the EU commission knows & approves of pushbacks & other border violence in Evros.

ECRE member, Fenix Humanitarian Legal Aid recently: “received the Final Report of the Frontex Fundamental Rights Officer (FRO) in response to the complaint submitted on behalf of three unrecognised minors in December 2020, regarding their wrongful registration as adults”. According to the organisation confirming the “Obligation of Registration Authorities to Respect the Presumption of Minority”. FRO held that: “[…] as to the relevant legal basis, which regulates the identification procedure of claimed unaccompanied minors and legally binds the host and participating Member States as well the Agency, […] states that when officers doubt the age declared by the undocumented person to be registered, the principle of “presumption of minority” should prevail and the situation should immediately be notified to the national authorities to start the age assessment procedure”.

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