On May 25, it was announced that 750 people are set to be relocated from Greece to France. In a statement in response to MEP Tineke Strik the Greek government deny any responsibility of a deadly shooting at the Greek Turkish border in March. The COVID-19 lockdown of migrant camps on the Greek islands and mainland has been extended until June 7. In at least eleven incidents since March 23 people have been found drifting in inflatable life rafts in Turkish territorial waters, reportedly a new tool of push-backs from Greece.

Following a meeting with French Ambassador to Greece Patrick Maisonnave, Greek Minister for Migration and Asylum, Giorgos Koumoutsakos, has announced the relocation of 750 people including 350 unaccompanied children from Greece to France. The first are expected to leave Greece in July. Further, the two countries confirmed an increase of French engagement in Frontex missions in Greeceand stressed the importance of collaborating on return. The Norwegian government has agreed to accept an unspecified number of vulnerable people from Greece under the condition that eight to ten other countries will do the same. ECRE members the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and Norsk organisasjon for asylsøkere (NOAS) have pushed for the acceptance of 750 vulnerable people from Greece.

Rejecting the findings of extensive forensic evidence published on May 8, the Greek government writes in a responseto a letter by by Tineke Strik, MEP and member of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE): “No evidence was ever provided in early March proving that the actions of Greek security forces resulted in the loss of life,” and further: “No new evidence is being presented today. So why is all this being replicated, two month later?” Strik reacted with a call for a public meeting with the European Commission and the Greek government stating: “We cannot allow this lack of accountability to persist.”

As Greece prepares to open up the country for tourists in the coming months and bars and restaurants are reopening this week the lock-down of overcrowded migrant camps on the mainland and on the Aegean islands is extended until June 7. Only four people arriving to seek asylum have tested positive on the islands, all on Lesvos, while some facilities on the mainland have been quarantined following outbreaks. A spokesperson from Human Rights Watch describes the situation for pregnant women in the island camps and mainland facilities as dire: “ Heavily pregnant women in Moria Reception Center on Lesbos told me about sleeping in overcrowded tents on ground lined only with thin mats or blankets, struggling to reach toilets over rough terrain, and being returned to these conditions within days of caesarean births”.

The NGO Alarm Phone is reporting of several incidents of push-back’s in the Aegean Sea. A survivor of one incident stated to the organisation: “When the Greeks pulled us back, our dinghy broke from the towing in high speed and water was entering slowly from the holes. We were left adrift thirsty and hungry trying to get the water out” and further explained that: “Many of us had no life vests – also many children. We had no paddles. No one was coming for help, while we could still see the Greek boats from a distance watching us.” Further, the organisation reports of the push-back of 59 people from within Mytilene harbour.

The legal online platform Just Security, reports of the rafts as new tool applied by Greek authorities to prevent access for people seeking protection: Testimonies and footage researchers obtained from multiple sources, including asylum seekers in the area, verify the latest show of violence at the Greek-Turkish maritime border: “. In at least 11 incidents since March 23, migrants have been found drifting in orange, tent-like inflatable life rafts without motors or propellants and that cannot be steered”. .

Greek Minister for Immigration and Asylum Notis Mitarakis has announced that of 93 facilities hosting migrants on the Greek islands, 60 that are operating in hotels will be closed by the end of the year and residents will be transferred to other facilities. The announcement comes ahead of the planned eviction on June 1 of 11,000 people who have been granted asylum but remain in reception facilities and hotels.

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Photo: (CC) ChadBriggs, March 2016

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