After a five year trial the Athens Court of Appeal delivered a landmark ruling declaring the far-right Golden Dawn party a criminal organisation. Hundreds of recognised refugees transferred to the mainland and finding no options are returning to Lesvos. In an open letter, 29 human rights and humanitarian NGOs call on members of the Greek Parliament to urgently establish an inquiry into all allegations of unlawful returns of migrants to Turkey as evidence continues to mount.

On 7 October the Athens Court of Appeal found seven former Golden Dawn MPs, including its leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, guilty of leading a criminal organisation, and others guilty of participation in one. The far-right party that won 7 per cent and 21 seats in the 2012 parliamentary elections but was wiped out of parliament in the July 2019 elections stood accused of targeting immigrants, communist trade unionists, anti-fascists, leftists and gay people. A Golden Dawn operative was also convicted of killing an anti-fascist rapper. Celebrations broke out as news of the ruling spread and tens of thousands of people gathered outside the court. European Director for Amnesty International Nils Muižnieks stated: “Today’s landmark ruling is a recognition of the systemic threat posed to our societies by a violent, racist group and a commitment that this threat must not be allowed to continue,” adding: “This verdict is the first step to deliver justice for the victims of hate crimes and discriminatory attacks, and must serve as a stark reminder of the dangers of demonising and scapegoating entire populations.”

A daily average of 20 to 30 people who have been recognised as refugees and transferred to the Greek mainland are returning to Lesvos. In September 2020 an estimated 400 people returned reportedly as a result of harsh conditions and the inability to leave Greece. Dozens of people transferred from the islands sleep rough in Victoria Square in Athens. A local café owner told Kathimerini: “All these people are exhausted. We feel their pain. We’re also human”, adding: “We just want the problem of the people in the square to be settled so that we also feel more comfortable and they do not feel trapped”. Widespread violence including beatings, dog attacks and torture of migrants is reported by volunteers working for No Name Kitchen and other organisations in Patras west of Athens with 35 incidents taking place inside the port, and eight outside in the places where migrants live or on the street.

Referring to the substantial and mounting evidence from NGOs, UN agencies and media of unlawful returns “carried out mainly through pushbacks and collective expulsions” 29 human rights and humanitarian aid organizations are calling for an inquiry by Greek MPs. The organisations emphasise the Parliaments “oversight authority to investigate the allegations of these illegal acts by state agents and proxies on Greece’s sea and land borders with Turkey”. On 7 October the New Humanitarian published a feature on particular tactics of push-backs applied by Greek police. In hundreds of cases since March asylum seekers have been rounded up and transported as much as 400 kilometers to be forced onto dinghies and expelled from the country, allegedly being beaten and robbed. According to the Aegean Boat Report: “A multi-handicapped man was thrown in a life raft outside Lesvos by the Greek coast guard. He couldn’t even walk, and Turkish coast guard needed a crane and a stretcher to lift him out of the life raft”.

The new tented camp on Lesbos hosting 9000 people under harsh conditions and with hours of waiting to leave and re-enter has been hit by hard wind and heavy rain illustrating the exposure of residents in the winter to come.

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Photo: ECRE