While a recent communication by the European Commission focuses on European solidarity and improvements in Greece, the EU watch-dog OLAF and Green MEP’s find severe violations. The Greek government’s messaging questioned and inconsistent. European countries continue to deport refugees to Greece despite the evident risk of destitution and lack of rights.

In its communication to the Parliament and Council on migration and asylum published on 6 October, the Commission reveals little concern but emphasizes European solidarity and improvements in Greece: “Over recent years, European solidarity with Greece has been unprecedented. This includes financial support and the presence of staff from the Commission and EU Agencies to support Greece in border management, asylum and return procedures, as well as operational planning and coordination. Progress has been made on the construction of new reception facilities on the Greek islands, with the new centres on Samos, Kos and Leros now established”. However, a damaging classified report by EU’s anti-fraud watchdog OLAF on the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) released by Der Spiegel on 13 October, reveals severe violations by Greek authorities as well as the agency’s complicity. The summary by Der Spiegel reads: “In repeat incidents, Frontex management withheld cases of possible human rights violations from its own fundamental rights officer. The agency suspended its aerial surveillance to stop recording violations of the law. It co-financed some of the Greek units that carried out the pushbacks”. Further, Frontex: “misled the bodies that are responsible for overseeing the agency. And although it should be clear after reading the report that the pushbacks were of  “serious nature or are likely to persist,” Frontex did not terminate the joint operations as stipulated by Article 46 of the agency’s regulations”. In Social Europe on 3 October, Green MEP Tineke Strik, Erik Marquardt and Sakia Bricmont urging the Commission to start: “infringement proceedings, based on the many reports of violations from credible organisations” of violations in Greece. According to the three MEP’s, “Lack of action has allowed Greece to build a dark system of pushbacks, surveillance and other fundamental rights violations”. On the same day, Aegean Boat Report published statistics for September 2022, when the organisation registered 117 illegal pushbacks in the Aegean Sea, performed by the Hellenic Coast Guard stating: “3302 people, children, women and men, have been denied their right to seek asylum”.

The Greek government continues its ongoing crackdown and accusations against civil society organisations working to protect the rights of asylum seekers and refugees. On 10 October, the Aegean Boat Report stated: “We are perturbed and annoyed to once again be the subject of mischievous and entirely untrue claims from the Greek Minister of Migration Notis Mitarachis”. The organisation denounced public claims made by the minister regarding its alleged cooperation with Turkish human smugglers and being funded by the “East”, saying: “The absolute best we can say about Mr. Mitarachis’ claim is that he certainly does not know it to be true (because it is not). In fact, we believe he knows that it is not, in which case what he said was a lie”. The messaging from the Greek government is also under scrutiny in relation to the ongoing controversy over the death on 9 August of a five-year-old girl while she was stranded along with 38 others on an islet in the Evros region between Greece and Turkiye continues – the group was pushed forth and back by Greek and Turkish authorities. The Greek government responded to the tragedy through threats against media covering the case, attempts to intervene in the investigation and deflection by claiming the incident didn’t happen on Greek territory. However, according to an answer to Greek MPs from the opposition by the Ministry of Defence, the islet is not Turkish but intersects the border. Following the official recognition that the islet is partly Greek, ECRE member, the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) that has requested interim measures by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on behalf of members of the group notes that while violations were committed by both Turkish and Greek authorities, Greece has responsibility. Further, the organisation points out that it is irrational in the context of the obligation to protect human life and dignity to “claim that the refugees were only in the Turkish part of the island and did not set foot on the Greek part“. Meanwhile, the stand-off between Greece and Turkiye continues as does the rising death toll in the Evros region and the Aegean Sea. On 9 October, the NGO hotline Alarm Phone reported of four men stuck in a forest in the Evros region, stating: “They suffer from several injuries and need immediate medical support. They report that one person already died. We informed various authorities and hope that help will arrive soon”. The number of confirmed deaths after two separate shipwrecks in the Aegean on 6 October has reached at least 23.

The recent report by Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) entitled ‘People Deported to destitution’ reveals the dire situation people recognised as refugees by Greece face when returned from other European countries: “In June 2022, Soraya and Somaya, two adult sisters, young single women from Afghanistan who had been recognised as refugees on the island of Samos in 2018 and both suffer from mental health problems and intense post-traumatic shock linked to their journey and previous stay there, were readmitted from Sweden to Greece on the ground that they already had protection there. Four months after their return, however, the two women remain undocumented and destitute due to the Greek state’s protracted inability to deliver identification documents to refugees and systemic deficiencies marring access to rights such as housing and social welfare. The two women are again exposed to danger and re-traumatisation, rendering their integration in society a distant, if not impossible, task”. According to statistics published by RSA on 13 October, close to 100 refugees have been deported to Greece by European states in the first half of 2022 despite the evident risks they face upon return. RSA further notes: “The situation of beneficiaries of international protection in Greece raises critical questions regarding European countries’ compliance with their human rights obligations. In spring 2022, Germany decided to refrain from returning recognised refugees to Greece and to process their claims on the merits, apart from exceptional cases. The Netherlands recently followed suit with a similar policy in September 2022”.

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