While three rescuers face trial on Lesvos, deaths at sea continue and vigilantes are found to have operated with impunity in the Evros region for years. Despite significant deficiencies in the Greek reception system and the risk of refoulement, European states continue to request Dublin returns to Greece.
On 18 November Nassos Karakitsos, Sarah Mardini and Sean Binder will face trial and possibly 25 years of imprisonment. The charges – of people smuggling, money laundering, espionage and membership of a criminal organisation – have been widely rejected by human rights organisations. According to Human Rights Watch the trial represents “no more than an effort to criminalize humanitarian activism on behalf of refugees and migrants in Greece”. The three were arrested in 2018 along with 21 other activists while working and volunteering with the NGO Emergency Response Centre International (ERCI). They were engaged in saving the lives of people in distress in the Aegean Sea, where at least 1,768 people have died since 2014 trying to cross from Turkey. On 26 October four children between the ages of 3 to 14 years old lost their lives when a dinghy sank of the island of Chios. One person remains missing and 22 people were rescued. Meanwhile, vigilantes have been operating with impunity for years in Greece’s Evros region, where the influence of the far-right has been increasing. Ongoing research reveals how private far-right border guards and militias that block access to Greek territory are tolerated or even lauded by the army, border guards, and national and local authorities.
Despite significant deficiencies in the Greek reception system and the risk of refoulement, EU member states and Schengen-associated countries continue to send thousands of Dublin take-back requests in an attempt to return asylum seekers to the country. A case study of an asylum applicant who was Dublin-transferred from Germany by Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) outlines that returnees: “face the risk of readmission back to Turkey”, “against the backdrop of ongoing push backs of refugees at Greek land and sea borders, escalating since March 2020, as well as an intensification of immigration detention”. Further, the organisation notes that: “the Greek reception system is undergoing a gradual transformation through the dismantling of open housing facilities in favour of large-scale “closed controlled centres”, while a coherent policy to support integration of people granted international protection is still lacking”. Germany has send 7,100 Dublin take back requests to Greece in 2021 so far. However, German interior minister Horst Seehofer recently stated, without providing any further details, that only one of these 7,100 had been carried out. In fact, as outlined by the AIDA database managed by ECRE, the low number of transfers effected: “confirms ECRE’s assessment that the majority of countries applying the Dublin Regulation make a conscious policy choice to subject both asylum seekers and their own administration to lengthy Dublin procedures even though they know in advance that these procedures will not end in a transfer. The consequences are damaging for applicants as they face a prolonged state of limbo, lengthy asylum procedures, and limited rights and guarantees”. National courts also prevent transfers based on considerations in the receiving country: German courts have done so due to the inhumane or degrading living conditions in Greece. To address onwards movement, Seehofer stated that his ministry is considering imposing border controls on flights coming from Greece, calling this “a very effective measure … if joint action does not occur with Greece”.
In cooperation with the Greek authorities, Frontex is in the final stage of testing aerostat systems for maritime surveillance at various altitudes and in different weather conditions in the vicinity of Alexandroupoli and on the island of Limnos. The four month testing of the new hardware, reportedly meant to “detect unauthorized border crossings, support search and rescue operations and combat cross-border crime” will be concluded in November. Recently, Greek authorities imposed severe restrictions on organisations active in competence areas of the Hellenic Coast Guard preventing independent oversight of violations. On 21 October a vessel operated by civilian search and rescue organisation Mare Liberum was prevented from carrying out its monitoring mission in the Aegean Sea. According to the organisation such prevention leaves the oversight entirely to the perpetrators of human rights violations and border crimes – the Hellenic Coast Guard, Frontex and NATO.
For further information:
- ECRE, Greece: Government Want to Keep Pushback Investigation In-House, Pushbacks Continue as Reports of Refoulement from Turkey Emerges, Food Provision and Cash Assistance in Shambles, October 2021
- ECRE, Greece: Hearing Reveals Hostile Environment for Human Rights Defenders, Strategy of Deflection and Denials on Pushbacks Continue, ESTIA Cash Scheme Unravels as Government Takes Over, October 2021