Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi confirms that more than 150,000 irregular migrants were “averted” this year but denies pushbacks. Greece continues to deem asylum applications inadmissible based on Türkiye being a ‘safe third country’ as hate crimes against Syrian refugees are on the rise in the country.

Notis Mitarachi told local media that: “The entry of 154,102 irregular migrants was averted since the start of the year. Around 50,000 attempted to invade Greece in August alone”. The minister did not specify how these people had been blocked from entering Greece but denied any involvement by Greek authorities in pushbacks accusing Türkiye of engaging in “violent push forward”. According to the latest asylum statistics released by Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) based on responses to parliamentary questions and government reporting just 14,110 asylum applicants were registered in Greece over the first six months of 2022.

Pushbacks and non-response to alerts of stranded people and ignoring of interim measures by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has long been reported in the Evros region separating Greece and Türkiye. On 7 September the NGO hotline Alarm Phone released detailed accounts from survivors of “brutal practices and the infrastructure of violence against people on the move in the Evros/Meric region”. Since March 2022, ECRE member the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) has represented: “444 Syrian and 32 Turkish refugees, including many children, before the European Court of Human Rights, by filing 19 applications for interim measures (Rule 39), requesting to be granted humanitarian assistance and access to the asylum procedure”. While, ECtHR granted the requested interim measures for all cases ordering the Greek government not to remove the refugees from Greek territory and to provide them with food, water and proper medical care, GCR note: “Some of the refugees of these 19 groups have been formally arrested by the Greek authorities but most of them complain they have been pushed back to Turkey”. The organisation further states: ”both with respect to those stranded on the islets and those in the Greek mainland, the refugees who complain that they have been pushed back to Turkey, also complain that they were informally arrested by the Greek authorities, informally detained for a few hours in an unspecified detention facility in the Evros region, they were treated with violence, they were transferred to the Evros river bank, from where they were forcibly put in boats and pushed back to Turkey”. For weeks of August, Greek authorities claimed unable to locate a group of 38 people stranded on an islet in the Evros region – leading to the death of a little girl – despite being provided with “GPS coordinates, which were confirmed by live locations and metadata in photos and other material the asylum-seekers had sent”.  A Deutsche Welle investigation questions whether Greece is “failing to deploy EU-funded surveillance system at Turkish border as intended?” The outlet states: “Less than two kilometers (about a mile) away from the group’s shared location, on a hill overlooking sunflower and wheat fields and the road that runs parallel to the islet, stands a surveillance pylon equipped with radar, heat sensors and cameras. This tech-laden pylon is believed to be part of the newly-expanded surveillance system that Greek police could have used to locate the asylum-seekers on the islet”. However, ironically at the BalkanInsight can reveal that Greece implemented illegal monitoring of asylum seekers. “With money from the EU’s pandemic-recovery fund, systems to monitor the movements of asylum seekers in Greece were designed and launched without basic data safeguards required under EU law” the outlet writes. According to BalkanInsight: “Planning for the two systems – Hyperion and Centaur – began in 2020, the former monitoring movement in and out of state-run asylum camps and the latter deploying behavioural analysis algorithms and transmitting CCTV and drone footage to a control room set up inside the Ministry of Migration and Asylum”.

In June 2021 the Greek government issued a controversial Joint Ministerial Decision (JMD) deeming Türkiye a safe third country for people originating from the main refugee producing countries including Syria. Despite Türkiye refusing to accept returns from Greece since March 2020 this has allowed Greek authorities to refuse asylum claims as inadmissible. According to RSA’s statistical update on the Greek asylum system for the first half of 2022: “The number of inadmissibility decisions based on the “safe third country” concept dropped to 1,137. Most concerned the mainland as only 251 were issued in the border procedure. Three out of four claims processed based on the national list of “safe third countries” were deemed admissible. RSA recalls that: “despite the drop in inadmissibility decisions based on JMD 42799/2021 in 2022, a large number of applicants whose initial claims had arbitrarily been dismissed on “safe third country” grounds resorted to lodging subsequent applications as the sole avenue for ensuring their case would be heard, in light of the absolute lack of readmission prospects to Turkey for over two years. Many of those applications, however, were again dismissed as inadmissible, this time for want of new substantial elements, thereby leaving people in legal limbo again”. On 2 September the Greek Asylum Service granted refugee status to two Syrian brothers who had submitted subsequent applications for international protection on Kos. According to Equal Rights Beyond Borders that filed a legal remedy against their detention before the Administrative Court of Rhodes in June, the asylum service on Kos accepted its argumentation in the conclusion that: “given the existence of the decision of the – Administrative Court of Rhodes in which, on the basis of the personalized judgment, it is accepted that the applicant cannot be returned to Turkey, as no returns are carried out and the subsequent application should be considered admissible as the claims presented by the applicant are new and substantial (inability to return to Turkey) and his application should be examined on the merits…”

Meanwhile, Türkiye is becoming an increasingly hostile environment for the 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees registered in the country that is currently seeing rising inflation and costs of living. While, there are no official statistics relating to violent attacks on Syrian refugees reported incidents include incidents of young Syrians killed by mobs. Metin Corabatir, president of the Research Center on Asylum and Migration (IGAM) points to far-right politicians using Syrians to stoke tension and media “fueling these tensions by disseminating misinformation about Syrians…” Referencing the recent killing of the Syrian teenager, Fares Elali, migration policy analyst at the Ankara-based think-tank TEPAV, Omar Kadkoy stated: “The deterrent here is the rule of law where the penalty is proportionate to the crime. It is skewed justice to make announcements of deporting Syrians for sharing videos on social media, for example, and not informing the public about the punishment of Fares’ killer or killers”. Another danger facing Syrian refugees is potential deportations – mass deportations of Syrians have been reported over the past years.

A reported prospect of a normalization of relations between Türkiye and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime would increase this risk. “If Turkey goes down the path of rapprochement without considering the agency of Syrians in any voluntary return, Syrians will be left between a rock and a hard place. The alternative? The shores of the Aegean again,” Kadkoy said.

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