As the Greek government is “extremely proud” over “tough but fair” migration policies, reports of pushbacks continue to mount. The dire situation in Closed Controlled Access Centre’s (CCACs) reported by EU representatives overseeing operations and condemned by NGOs.
Following the Turkish general elections on 14 May, the High Election Board has confirmed that there will be a runoff vote on 28 May as neither the sitting president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan nor the opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu secured the 50% threshold in the first round. The situation for millions of refugees in Turkiye – considered safe for main refugee groups by Greece – has significantly worsened during the run-up to the election with the main candidates focusing on returns to Syria and scapegoating refugee groups. Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Dendias predicted that Erdogan’s reign is “not over yet”. Dendias reportedly highlighted that Greece stands to gain nothing but benefits from a prosperous and stable Turkije. Meanwhile, the Greek government is celebrating its own alleged achievements in relation to migration in the run-up to Parliamentary elections on 21 May. Denouncing critique over rising “excessive violence, brutality and corruption by police”, Minister of Civil Protection, Takis Theodorikakos stated: “Our daily concern in practice is the safety of citizens, which is why we put an end to the lawlessness and delinquency”. The minister, speaking during a visit to a police station, further explained: “This is why in 2022 the Greek police arrested 7,000 illegal migrants in the Attica [region that includes Athens], and now we are placing 600 new special guards at the Attica police stations”. During a visit to Lesvos Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he was “exceptionally proud” about keeping his commitment to local communities, also stating: “We implemented a firm but fair policy on migration. We protected our country’s borders both on land and at sea, and reduced irregular arrivals by 90 percent. We proved that the sea has borders, and those borders can and must be guarded”. The Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi underlined that “we committed to the Greek people to substantially reduce the flows and drastically the effects of the crisis on local communities. And we did it with a plan and determination”. While praising their “tough but fair” migration policies the two senior ministers did not offer details on how arrivals have been reduced. The government has announced the extension of the border fence in the Evros region to 140 kilometers: “After the migration crisis of 2020, the fence has contributed greatly to the region, not only in terms of prevention, but mainly in the field of preventing illegal entry of irregular migrants.Its deterrent power is 100%.Since it was built, no one has passed”. Police Inspector B Konstantinos Tsolakidis, who serves at the Feres border post, told media. Meanwhile, reports of pushbacks in the Evros region as well as the Aegean Sea have been mounting for years.
In a comment on the Greek elections, ECRE member, Fenix – Humanitarian Legal Aid, stated: “Of particular concern is the situation at the Greek borders. Several organizations have documented extreme violence against people seeking asylum. Pushbacks carried out by Greek authorities often reportedly involve humiliation, physical as well as sexual violence”. On May 16, Alarm Phone reported of “Another pushback” to Türkiye by the Hellenic Coast Guard of 15 people after their arrival to Samos, stating: Once more, Greece violates international law by forcing people back to the place they tried to escape from”. The day after, Alarm Phone warned of: “~40 people adrift near Lesvos, Greece. The boat is drifting since more than 4 hours off of the island of Agios Efstratios. Hellenic Coast Guard is alerted. A few minutes ago, the people on the boat sent us a video showing a vessel approaching them in full speed. Stop Pushbacks”. On 18 May the organisation could confirm the pushback. On 17 April, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) communicated two cases concerning the deportation of a married couple from Greece to Turkiye without prior procedure. The applicants left Türkiye because they had been sentenced to imprisonment for their political associations, and entered Greece in order to join the woman’s family in France. Greece sent them back to Türkiye despite their explanation that the woman had the right to reside in Greece and that the man was persecuted by Turkiye. The couple is currently serving their sentences. The ECtHR questions whether the applicants exhausted the domestic remedies, Greece violated Article 2 and 3 ECHR, the applicants had an effective remedy and whether the applicants were deprived of their liberty in breach of Article 5 §1, §2, §4. The fact that the female is a French citizen has sparked attention by media and according to front-LEX the organisation that filed the case, ECtHR has decided to “invite FRANCE to join the case against Greece”.
New York Times (NYT) published on 19 May an investigation including video evidence of the EU-funded Greek coastguard while being “caught in the act” – pushing back asylum seekers on 11 April. The footage shows that 12 migrants including women and children were locked in a white unmarked van, forced onto a speedboat, transferred to a Greek Coast Guard vessel funded by the EU and then abandoned in the middle of the Aegean Sea. “The government has consistently denied mistreating asylum seekers and points to the fact that it shoulders a disproportionate burden of managing new arrivals to Europe”. But the footage “may be the most damning evidence yet of the Greek authorities’ violation of international laws and E.U. rules”. The Greek authorities unsurprisingly refused to comment despite repeated requests and the Commission said that it was “concerned by the footage” and that, though it had not verified the material for itself despite having been explained on how the video was verified. Greece “must fully respect obligations under the E.U. asylum rules and international law, including ensuring access to the asylum procedure,” said Anitta Hipper, the European Commission spokeswoman for migration. The pushed-back asylum seekers were found later in a detention centre in Izmir city on the Turkish coast after multiple attempts to track them down. “The Turkish authorities, eager to highlight the Greek government’s poor treatment of migrants, granted rare access to the facility” and allowed for an interview with asylum seekers. Two women of the group, Aden and Abdullahi17 expressed that they hoped to reach Europe for a better future when they got on smuggler’s dinghy but they ended up being pushed back to Turkiye. The women and some of the older children reported having their hijabs torn off, and the men searching their bodies for belongings which were all stolen by the masked men.
During his visit to Lesvos, Kyriakos Mitsotakis stated: “The hell of Moria – as it became known abroad – no longer exists; it belongs in the past”. However, according to an overview by Refugee Support Aegean (RSA), the situation in the EU-funded Closed Controlled Access Centre (CCAC) is far from ideal. The Lesvos CCAC is “located in a former shooting range and is very close to the sea, exposed to the weather conditions, especially to the north wind and dust, which makes living there really difficult” and RSA points to significant shortages of health and interpreting staff and problems with access to lawyers. The organisation further notes the work on a new “EU-funded superstructure” – a CCAC under construction Vastria region – continues. The construction is ongoing despite strong local opposition and legal interventions over the “irreversible destruction of the forest wealth and rare avifauna” given its location in a protected area as well as “serious concerns regarding safety and forest fires”. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), stated on 12 May: “EU-funded Closed Controlled Access Centers (CCAC) in Greece are marketed as an improvement in living conditions for migrants arriving on the islands. Yet, in reality, they severely restrict people’s movement and keep them contained in prison-like facilities. On Samos, the CCAC is surrounded by barbed wire fencing, people are under 24/7 surveillance, must enter through x-ray machines, and are identified by biometric data, such as fingerprints”. Refugee Education Coordinators (RECs) express strong opposition to the conversion of all types of accommodation structures for refugees-asylum-seekers-immigrants throughout the territory into closed controlled centers. The RECs argue that it creates practical problems in the access to education; limits social inclusion; prevents communication between parents or guardians and teachers, increases social exclusion and a suffocating working environment for staff. Meanwhile, internal correspondence between EU representatives overseeing operations at the CCACs on Samos, Leros and Kos obtained by Al Jazeera and Solomon through freedom of information requests, reveals challenges of providing basic services and “nearly daily struggles ranging from staff shortages delaying asylum procedures to allegations of sexual and other violence impacting children”.
In cooperation with ECRE members HIAS Greece and the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR), INTERSOS HELLAS has released an analysis of the food insecurity experienced by refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, and undocumented people in Greece. The conclusions are based on data collected through the Food for All project (FfA) implemented by the Greek Forum of Migrants, with the support of INTERSOS “to meet the primary need of the most vulnerable groups of migrants and refugees living in Athens, and to ensure their nutritional survival”. The analysis reveals that: “30,1% of those who received assistance through the FfA project hold the legal status of a recognized refugee”. Further that “Most individuals who benefited from the FfA project (54%) are children, of whom 1 out of 3 (23.7%) are under 4 years old. 59.4% access food only 1-3 times per week”. ‘’The existence of systemic barriers, such as the complex and lengthy bureaucratic procedures coupled with the application of discriminatory criteria that de facto exclude beneficiaries of international protection and migrants from most social benefits in Greece, severely hinder the equal access to the social welfare system for third country nationals. Meanwhile, reception conditions for asylum seekers in the camps remain substandard’’. Vassilis Kerasiotis, Country Director of HIAS Greece. In a joint submission to Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) regarding the de-facto detention in both CCACs and Pre-Removal Detention Centres (PRDCs) by ECRE member I Have Rights and Mobile Info Team with the support of Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN), the organisation called for an end of arbitrary of asylum seekers and third country nationals including children, adequate access to free legal aid and translation assistance for people in detention and an independent monitoring mechanism to investigate rights violations in detention.
Amnesty International released a statement on 16 May on the long-running cases against rescue workers Seán Binder and Sarah Mardini: “the Supreme Court of Greece will hear an appeal by a prosecutor that could result in the misdemeanours case against refugee rescue volunteers Sarah Mardini and Seán Binder back to court for a new trial. Ahead of the hearing, Adriana Tidona, Migration Researcher at the organisation, said: “Sarah Mardini and Seán Binder should never have been put on trial for their human rights work. They were simply volunteering on the Greek shoreline, helping refugees and migrants at risk of drowning at sea, when they were arrested in 2018. Several human rights defenders similarly face criminalization for their work with refugees and migrants while this case has already had a chilling effect that may deter others from doing the same”. A decision is not expected for some time. If the appeal is successful, a new misdemeanour trial will take place and the statute of limitations for these charges will be extended by three years. Seán Binder, stated: “We are confident that we will get a fair trial and the court will uphold the decision to dismiss the indictment against us. But if the Supreme Court sides with the prosecutor, then we fear our right to a fair trial is being denied”.
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