Greek court confirms conviction of Afghan teenagers over Moria fires in 2020 as the criminalisation of refugees continues. Greece is increasing deployments of border police and equipment in the Evros while ignoring interim measures by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on people stranded in the region. The annual report by the Greek Ombudsman puts into question efficiency and reliability of Greek authorities investigations of pushbacks.

Following the recent sentencing of three Syrian nationals to a combined 439 years in prison for “facilitating unauthorized entry” in a Syros court and the sentencing of another group of Syrian nationals to 364 years of imprisonment by the court in Kalamata “for complicity in transferring into Greece third-country nationals” the criminalisation of refugees in Greece continues. In an appeal ruling on 7 June, the Court of Mytilene affirmed the conviction of the teenagers A.A. and M.H. who were under-aged when they were arrested among four other Afghan youths and later sentenced to five years in prison for “arson with risk to human life” in relation to the fires that destroyed the notorious Moria Reception and Identification Centre in 2020. In a press release Legal Centre Lesvos, stated: “Once again, the courts of Mytilene flouted the basic rules of a fair trial and the rights of the accused”, noting: “Twenty-six prosecution witnesses paraded through the court today, and none of them identified the two defendants. The court nevertheless decided to confirm the conviction of the two on appeal, without credible evidence”. The case against A.A. was reportedly based on the testimony of a witness neither summoned by the investigating magistrate nor appearing before the trial court and for M.H. on video material deemed of such poor quality that no forensic conclusions could be drawn by Athens forensic laboratory. Legal Centre Lesvos welcomes a parallel decision by the Athens Juvenile Court of Appeal deciding on a petition for the two teenagers’ provisional release from prison, that ruled: “in favour of A.A., who will finally be released from prison, following the Kafkaesque suffering he has endured since his arrival in Greece”. According to the organisation, the same court will decide on 5 July on the petition for the release of M.H.”.

Commenting on a recent acquittal by the Criminal Court of Appeal of Kalamata of two Syrian nationals of the criminal charges imposed whilst entering the Greek territory, Refugee Support Aegean representing one of the defendants stated: “This decision is particularly important as the hearing brought to light major irregularities, serious gaps, omissions and faults of the pre-trial and investigative procedure, which resulted in the prosecution and pre-trial detention of the two accused for one year,” the organisation further notes: “The judgment of acquittal though, should serve as a precedent for putting an end to a series of systematic violations of the rule of law and the application of summary proceedings against the weakest and in this case against refugees”.

Reportedly, Greek plans to increase deployment of border police along the Evros border with Turkiye has begun. The plan also includes technical equipment such as water cannons, unmanned aerial vehicles, tear gas and flash grenades. The move comes amid tensions with Ankara and allegedly in response to increased “migration pressure”. Meanwhile, people on the move remain stranded in the region unassisted and in danger of pushbacks despite interim measures from ECtHR. On 3 June the NGO hotline Alarm Phone reported of a group “attacked, robbed & pushed back by Greek forces” in the Evros region. After the pushback, 28 members of the group again attempted to cross but got stuck on Greek soil on an islet in the Evros river. Despite ECtHR granting interim measures for the group – left without food and fresh water for days with eight minors including a child “barely breathing” – Greek authorities and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) claimed to be unable to locate them. However, the group reported being approached by “boat by a group of unidentified & uniformed men”, who were “shooting in the air” leaving them in fear of another violent pushback.

The annual report by the Greek Ombudsman puts into question Greek authorities investigations of pushbacks. The report reveals: “numerous problems in all cases, that render such “investigations” little more than glorified coverups. Authorities regularly fail to interview pushback survivors themselves, thereby “undermining the efficiency” and “reliability of the investigations”, writes reporter for Der Spiegel, Giorgos Christides. He defines the report as: “the most astonishing takedown of the charade known as “Greek authorities always investigate pushback allegations”. Christides further points to the failure by Greek authorities: “to cross-reference the coordinates captured in the metadata of the photos migrants present to prove they reached Greek soil” and the fact that dismissal of pushback allegations “is often based on the fact that the migrants levelling the accusations were not officially registered by the authorities – which is kind of the whole point why pushback charges are being levelled against them in the first place”.

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