Residents in EU-funded and highly surveilled Closed Controlled Access Centres (CCAC) in the Aegean islands live under regime of incarceration and excessive policing. Authorities continue the use of criminalisation as an intimidation tactic towards organisations and humanitarians amid reports of pushbacks. The anti-migrant sentiment in Turkiye has escalated as the elections are approaching.

An information note by ECRE member PRO ASYL and Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) describes the current difficult reality prevailing in the Closed Controlled Access Centres (CCAC) in the Aegean islands, a multi-million euros project funded by the European Commission. The note states that CCACs are based on a regime of incarceration and excessive policing, making them “more akin to prison” when they are initially “heralded to provide better conditions”. CCACs in Samos, Kos and Leros, in particular, are surrounded by an external NATO-type double security fence and other control systems. Residents are also subject to bag checks, body checks and metal detectors. Even children residing in Samos and Leros CCAS undergo a security check “even when they return from school”. Besides, CCACs are located in remote areas “where access is very difficult, contributing to their further isolation”. In addition, the note marks the main problems faced by residents of the centres including a shortage of personnel including medical staff, deficiencies in basic necessities such as hot water, baby essentials, absence of psychosocial support, frequent power cuts and delays of financial allowances. In a statement, ECRE member I Have Rights and other NGOs called for the closure of the Samos Closed Controlled Access Centre due to concerns about Samos CCAC compliance with human rights standards including de-facto detention of unaccompanied minors, intense surveillance, restriction of liberty and degrading living conditions. The Athens Administrative Court of Appeal, after six years, acknowledged the responsibilities for the inhospitable living conditions in the Moria Refugee Camp that resulted in the death of two refugees from carbon monoxide inhalation while warming themselves with stoves and ordered the Greek authorities to pay compensation to the victims’ families. Meanwhile, the identity of the migrant woman who was shot “accidentally” by police officers on the country’s borders with Greece on 19 April has been released. Her name is Fatma and she was a 23-year-old asylum seeker and a volunteer at Samos Volunteers Collective.

The Greek government’s clampdown on humanitarians and organisations assisting people on the move continues. Mare Liberum, human rights monitoring organisation in Aegean, announced with a “heavy heart” its dissolution. “Like many organisations, we have experienced sabotage, obstruction, and, repression during our time in the Aegean, and not only in Greece. The Hellenic Coast Guard has repeatedly tried to intimidate us, through reckless maneuvers or radio calls, through repeated controls and questioning of our papers… Twice the German Ministry of Transport under the direction of Andreas Scheuer (CSU) issued a detention order for our ship to prevent us from sailing. And to make matters worse, the Greek police raided our ship, searched it, and are now investigating us on flimsy grounds”. Besides, the director of the Greek Helsinki Monitor Panayote Dimitras and the Norwegian national founder of Aegean Boat Report Tommy Olsen are facing criminal proceedings over allegations related to smuggling for their work in saving lives and documenting rights violations in the Aegean. “We’ve been the pain in the ass of the Greek authorities because we have documented pushbacks and related violence,” Dimitras told Middle East Eye, describing the charges as a form of “revenge”. Madi Williamson, a nurse working with refugees described allegations against humanitarians as a “widespread intimidation tactic” that has “no validity in the eyes of the law”. Besides, the prosecution appealed to the Supreme Court regarding the annulment of the charges for 22 humanitarians and reportedly the appeal hearing will take place on 16 May. “If the appeal is accepted, a new trial will occur”, ECRE member Fenix Aid said. Meanwhile, for the second year in a row, Greece was listed as the worst EU country in Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) 2023 World Press Freedom Index.

A months-long research by Solomon documented the ordeal of ten asylum seekers, who reached Samos in January 2023 “believing Greece would provide them shelter only to be subjected to the violent and unlawful treatment Athens vehemently denies engaging with”. After the authorities were informed about their arrival, the group experienced torture, and degrading treatment including orders to strip down to their underwear and theft of their phones, money and all valuables by masked men. “We were tied with cables and put into the back of a van”, Samah, a female member of the group, said. The group was later taken to a boat full of refugees who were made to lie down on top of each other “like sardines “and left adrift towards the Turkish waters. Meanwhile, the Hellenic Coast Guard will spend over €3 million on a new state-of-the-art maritime surveillance system in the North Aegean. “The stated aim is to improve ‘safe navigation’, “yet the Coast Guard has repeatedly failed to rescue boats in distress in areas where they are present”, commented Mobile Info Team. On 2 May, Alarm Phone reported about 39 people including some with health issues stuck on an islet. “They are urgently calling for help and want to apply for asylum in Greece” and on 4 May, Hellenic coast guard rescued the 39 people including 20 children after more than two days of calling for help. On 3 May, Alarm Phone reported of a boat in distress carrying 36 people and urged the authorities to rescue them. Hours later, Alarm Phone communicated: “Where are they?! While Hellenic Coastguard claims that they could not find the boat, relatives are extremely worried about the well-being of their loved ones. We are worried too and urge authorities to use all means available and to continue the search for the boat in distress!”. On 4 May, Aegean Boat Report reported that three people were killed after pushback of a boat carrying a total of 9. According to information published by the Turkish coast guard, one person was found drowned and two people are missing, a woman and a baby, both believed to be drowned.

Türkiye is becoming increasingly unsafe for refugees as elections are approaching. All alliances except for the pro-Kurdish, Green-Left Alliance have reportedly pledged to immediately send almost 4 million Syrians back to neighbouring Syria if they win the election. Meanwhile, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon commits suicide over forced deportation fearing torture or persecution at the hands of the Syrian government upon return. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the CHP opposition party and presidential candidate, promised negotiations with the Syrian regime concerning the return of refugees, a reviewal of the EU-Turkey deal, increased surveillance along borders and a repatriation agreement with third countries. In addition to the anti-migrant sentiment, refugees in Turkey are struggling to make a life due to inflation, high unemployment and poverty. Moreover, Human Rights Watch reported that Turkish border guards are “indiscriminately shooting at Syrian civilians on the border with Syria, as well as torturing and using excessive force against asylum seekers and migrants trying to cross into Turkey”. The organisation called on the authorities to “investigate and hold accountable border guards responsible for these grave human rights violations, including unlawful killings, and end the longstanding impunity for these abuses”.

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