The Greek government is considering tasking a transparency body with pushback investigations without including representatives of independent bodies or organisations. Systematic pushbacks from Greece continue as do reports of refoulement from Turkey. 26 NGOs urge Greek authorities to “disburse belated payments of cash assistance and ensure food provision” to deprived asylum seekers and refugees.

In response to demands from the European Commission for Greece to establish a human rights monitoring mechanism, the Greek government is examining the possibility of tasking the National Transparency Authority (EAD) with the role. However, while representatives of the Migration Ministry, court officials and teachers would participate in such mechanism, reportedly no independent bodies or organisations would be included. The Greek government recently imposed heavy restrictions on NGOs that act in the areas of competence of the Greek coast guard, preventing efficient and independent oversight of the agency’s conduct.

Meanwhile, pushbacks continue. According to the Aegean Boat Report, 384 life rafts carrying 6,659 “victims of cruel and inhuman behaviour by the Greek government” have been found adrift in the Aegean Sea since March 2020. The latest incident documented on 17 October involves 23 people, including five children, of which 22 were pushed back by the Hellenic Coast Guard after arriving to the Greek island of Ikaria. Survivors of pushbacks in the Evros region have reported a trend of “third country nationals working with Greek authorities in violently expelling people from the country” to Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN). Pakistani, Afghan, Syrian, Iraqi or Moroccan nationals have allegedly been used as boat-drivers on dinghies and operational support for Greek authorities during pushback operations with the promise legal papers in exchange. According to BVMN, the exact relationship between authorities and third country nationals is difficult to assess. Though it remains unclear if promised compensations are duly exchanged, given: “the repeated assertion of this practice, it appears that the Greek authorities are operating some form of exploitation over people on the move which plays on the lack of access to asylum in the country”.

On 13 October Greek authorities pushed back another a group of people in the Evros region. The group included M.A., a Syrian national, despite the fact that his request to apply for asylum had been delivered to the Hellenic Police, the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) of Fylakio, and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), by Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) via email. On 15 October the European Court of Human Right (ECtHR) applied interim measures under Rule 39 as requested by RSA. However, by then M.A had already been illegally expelled by to Turkey by Greek authorities. RSA and ECRE member Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) recently filed an appeal before the High Administrative Court against the Joint Ministerial Decision designating Turkey as a safe third country for citizens of Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan and Bangladesh. On 15 October, Human Rights Watch published testemonials of Afghan nationals pushed back to Iran by the Turkish army in groups of 50–300 people at the time some after severe beatings. “Turkish authorities are denying Afghans trying to flee to safety the right to seek asylum,” said Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch. Wille also noted: “Turkish soldiers are also brutally mistreating the Afghans while unlawfully pushing them back”.

In the begining of October the UNHCR handed over the cash assistance component of the Emergency Support to Integration and Accommodation (ESTIA) scheme to Greek authorities. The handover quickly fell apart, while a parallel decision to discontinue financial support and food distribution to people who have completed the asylum procedure left many without support. A joint statement by 26 NGOs including several ECRE members summarises the situation: “In a new bleak turn of events, people that seek or have received international protection in Greece, are now deprived of food or their cash allowance, due to the policies pursued by the Greek government and an overall lack of preparation to undertake its obligations”. The organisations estimate that 60 per cent of people residing in camps on the mainland do not receive food. 36,000 people have not received their cash support due to the gap caused by the lack of preparation by the Greek government taking over distribution from UNHCR. Further, the joint statement notes that: “Among those left hungry are 25% women (including pregnant women), single-headed families, 40% children, chronic patients, and patients with special medical and nutritional conditions. In some places, food is not even provided to those put in quarantine due to COVID 19”. In its response, the Ministry of Migration and Asylum despite evidence to the contrary, claim that all asylum seekers in facilities on the islands and mainland have received three meals a day since 1 October and that cash support will resume as normal at the end of the month. Further, figures from the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum reveals that less than 1 in 10 children living in Reception and Identification Centres (RIC) are enrolled in school.

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Photo: ECRE

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