The Greek migration ministry noted a decrease in arrivals by 33 per cent amid ongoing reports of pushbacks, violence and violations of refugee rights. A new report by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch criticised the lack of progress investigations have made into the tragic Pylos shipwreck that killed at least 500. The Turkish President and the Greek Prime Minister want to reboot relations following a “landmark” visit.

The latest figures published by the Greek migration ministry indicate a 33 per cent decrease in the number of migrants arriving in Greece in November. A total of 4,584 migrants reached the country compared to 6,863 in October. The ministry took this opportunity to praise its own “comprehensive and multi-level strategy” addressing “irregular migration and trafficking” that led to the drop in arrivals that it also described as “remarkable if compared to the rise of the phenomenon observed elsewhere, such as in Italy, Croatia and also in Spain”. “Greece has managed to have fewer arrivals than most EU member states in the southern outer perimeter of the Schengen zone, managed them efficiently and safely for asylum seekers and local communities, within organised structures, unlike what happens in other countries,” the Greek migration ministry added”. In its latest report, Médecins Sans Frontières repeatedly questioned whether the decreasing number of arrivals is related to the country’s de facto and systematic policy of pushbacks in the Evros and Aegean regions, and Greece’s systemic denial and failure to remedy pushbacks and border violence against migrants. They also criticised the European Commission’s continuous financial support to Greece, specifically allocated for border management operations – an issue currently being investigated by the European Ombudsman. In the last few days, the hotline Alarm Phone reported multiple incidents of pushbacks and non-assistance by Greek authorities. On 5 December, the hotline informed the Hellenic Coastguard about a group of 43 people in distress near Lesvos. The coastguard left the group to drift until it reached the Turkish waters. “Are they being rescued or is the Hellenic coastguard performing another illegal pushback? On the phone, the Hellenic coastguard refused to give any updated information”, Alarm Phone wrote on X. On 7 December, 22 people in distress near Lesvos called for assistance and reported that a military boat was near them. Alarm Phone said that the military boat “is not assisting and instead pushing them (people in distress) further away from the coast” despite seeing that water was entering the refugees’ boat. “Turkish authorities confirmed they found the group, who were pushed back to Türkiye! Already in the first week of December, the Hellenic Coastguard have pushed back 6 groups who contacted Alarm Phone”, the organisation added. On 11 December, the Turkish Coastguard said in a press release that it had rescued a total of 122 migrants who were pushed back by Greek authorities into Turkish territorial waters. On 13 December, the hotline published an email sent by a group of 17 people, including an unconscious woman, who had experienced a pushback to Türkiye saying, “We were captured by the Greek Coast Guard near the island of Kos and our boat was destroyed and left at sea begging for urgent help we will die of cold”.

On 14 December, refugee organisations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International (AI) and Refugee Support Aegean, marked six months since the tragic shipwreck off the coast of Pylos in Greece that left more than 500 people dead. In their new piece of research, AI and HRW underlined that Greece’s investigations into the response of the Hellenic Coastguard to the Pylos tragedy have made “little meaningful progress”. According to the 21 survivors interviewed, “Greek authorities failed to mobilise appropriate resources for a rescue” in the 15 hours between receiving the first alert that the Adriana was in their search and rescue region. The survivors said that the authorities were clearly aware of indicators of distress such as overcrowding and insufficient food and water as well as corpses on board and requests for rescue. “The historic failures in Greece’s investigations of shipwrecks” raises concerns about “the adequacy of the ongoing judicial inquiries into the Pylos tragedy” the report stated, emphasising that “A full accounting of what happened is paramount to securing truth and justice for survivors and families of the victims and to help avoid future deaths”. The two human rights organisations contend that the European Border Agency (Frontex) “should have continued its monitoring of the Adriana and issued a mayday call” but Frontex defended its actions stating that “it is the responsibility of national authorities to coordinate search and rescue operations and that it did not issue a mayday alert because it did not assess an “imminent risk to human life.” Adriana Tidona, migration researcher at AI said, “Almost 10 years since the deadly Farmakonisi shipwreck, the Greek authorities’ response to the Pylos tragedy is a crucial test of their willingness to investigate human rights violations against racialised people on the move at the country’s border”. Meanwhile, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis responded to a question in a BBC interview on the responsibility of the Greek Coastguard for the Pylos shipwreck saying that the authorities are looking into this element and that his country’s coastguard “saved tens of thousands of lives at sea” and that “we should be grateful for the work they do”. “We had the right to intercept boats at sea and encourage them to the coasts from where they left”, he added. On the sixth-month anniversary of the Pylos tragedy, the European Parliament (EP) adopted a resolution urging Frontex to suspend operational activities in Greece because of pushbacks and violence against migrants and refugees. The EP urges the agency to “be more proactive in protecting fundamental rights” and recommends an immediate suspension of return activities of migrants in Hungary, impact assessments prior to third-country negotiations and full co-operation with the Ombudsman’s inquiry into the Pylos tragedy.

The Council of Europe’s Anti-torture Committee (CPT) made an ad-hoc visit to Greece from 21 November to 1 December 2023 to “examine the treatment of foreign nationals deprived of their liberty under immigration legislation”. The CPT delegation visited six of the seven pre-removal detention centres and several police and border guard stations in different regions as well as three closed controlled access centres on the Aegean Islands of Kos, Lesvos and Samos. Meanwhile, the Greek authorities continue to demonise migration and violate refugee rights. In the first-ever report published by the National Intelligence Agency (EYP), the agency described “illegal” migration as the “fourth in a row threat to the country’s security”. According to the EYP, this threat lies in the “instrumentalisation of the drama of thousands of people seeking a better fate by unscrupulous traffickers and illegal organised crime rings, acting with the tolerance, encouragement or co-operation of third parties, both governmental and non-governmental,” thus leading to “difficult to manage situations with a wider social and deeply human dimension”. Meanwhile, 16 organisations including ECRE member organisations Fenix Legal Humanitarian Aid and the Greek Refugee Council(GRC) sent an open letter on 12 December to Greek politicians, including the migration minister, expressing “greatest concerns” for the systematic violations of the rights of people seeking international protection. The organisations called on authorities to ensure access to medical care, medication, mental health and psychosocial support and food. GRC also published a press release in relation to a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights concerning a case of two Afghan single women, one of whom is accompanying her two minor children, 12 and 10 years old, while the other one is accompanying her three minor children to Greece and both families reside in Kos’ Closed Controlled Access Center in “absolutely inadequate conditions”. The ECtHR issued interim measures and ordered the Greek authorities to ensure that the applicants, represented by GCR, “have full access to reception conditions which respect human dignity and take into account their multiple vulnerabilities”. However, a day later on 13 December, a Greek collective published a video showing the municipality of Rhodes destroying the tents of refugees who were sleeping rough.

After “customary verbal jousting” over recent years, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was in Athens on a “landmark visit” on 7 December and the two countries agreed to boost trade and establish communication channels between coastguards to tackle the issue of migration. While Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis noted that the “substantial reduction in flows during the last period” is a result of “systematic guarding of the sea as well as the land borders” and better co-operation between the police and coastguards of both countries, President Erdoğan talked about a “new era” where “no problem that couldn’t be resolved” between nations which could be “an example to the world”. However, on 11 December, the Turkish Coastguard again accused the Greek Coastguard  of pushing back migrants.

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