At a hearing in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), MEPs condemned the European Commission’s “silence” on Greek pushbacks. In the Evros region, people on the move continue to be caught in the stand-off between Greece and Turkije.
On 5 June, MEPs in the LIBE committee debated the situation in Greece with home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson and Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas – a member of former Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ New Democracy party. According to Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN), the two officials praised accomplishments in Greece with Schinas pointing to alleged improvements related to the highly controversial EU-funded Closed Controlled Access Centres (CCACs): “I am really proud as an EU Commissioner and Greek citizen … that we are delivering something that is substantially better”. Solomon questioned Schinas over his declared ignorance of a classified fund created in May 2020 through a ministry bill allowing the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum to distribute funds without informing the Parliament. “Is there a secret fund? I do not know and I would be surprised if there would be one, frankly,” Schinas stated. Further, the recent documentation by the New York Times of the pushbacks of 12 migrants including children and an infant from Lesvos – adding to mounting evidence of such practices by Greek authorities – was discussed at the LIBE hearing. Commissioner Johansson, stated it: “seems to be clear deportation,” adding: “This is not the first time that we had this situation”. Schinas expressed confidence in the investigation by the Greek national transparency authority (NTA) – denounced by the UN special rapporteur for human rights and NGOs as “politically compromised and ineffective”. Reportedly, the Commission vice president said the NTA should be given some leeway because migration “has not been in their core duties in the past”. Confronted with another documented pushback of a Frontex interpreter allegedly mistaken for an asylum seeker and beaten by Greek authorities, Schinas said: “I have no information on that”. Meanwhile, EU lawmakers including German MEP, Birgit Sippel and Dutch MEP, Sophie In ‘T Veld condemned the Commission’s “silence” over Greek pushback practices. Citing praise by Commission officials congratulating and praising Greece for “protecting” European borders, Sippel stated: “This is not fighting pushbacks, this is empowering [and] encouraging people to continue that way”. In ‘T Veld said: “This is about investigating criminal behavior… Where’s the humanity in this? Where’s the sense of urgency in the commission?”, adding: “This is not the European way of life, and I do not have confidence in the Commission that you are going to tackle this”. Meanwhile, pushbacks continue: “We have registered 5 pushback cases in the Aegean Sea this week, involving 182 men, women and children. In one of these pushback cases the Greek coast guard used life rafts, 84 people was forcibly removed from Greek waters and left helplessly drifting in 4 life rafts in the Aegean Sea”, Aegean Boat Report stated on 7 June.
In the Evros region separating Greece and Turkiye, notorious for being the scene of violence and pushbacks against people on the move, reports of non-response to distress alerts and pushbacks continue. On 3 June, the NGO hotline Alarm Phone reported of “More people stranded on same islet near Nea Vyssa, stating: “This afternoon, we informed the Hellenic police about 24 people incl. 5 children whose position shows them on the same islet as another group recently. They are there for 5 days & don’t have food or water left”. On 6 June, Alarm Phone, reported: “as far as we have been informed, three different groups are on this island, in total around 330 people. Many among them are stranded on the islet for several days now. Greek authorities are aware of the presence of the people but refuse to evacuate them!”. Meanwhile, media have reported about a group of 70 to 80 people of the Yezidi minority stranded on an islet in the Marasia area of the Evros region with Greek authorities claiming they were on Turkish territory and accordingly no rescue operation could be carried out. Journalist, Vedat Yeler commented: “This is a tragically funny situation. If Greece gives the islets to Turkey, why is the border drawn on the google map not corrected?”. On 4 June, Greek authorities launched an operation to “collect” the stranded group, according to a statement from authorities, as they had moved to the “Greek side” of the islet. According to police, a total of 91 people including 34 children were transferred to a processing center near the border with Turkiye. Researcher, Lena K, stated: “the ‘collection’ of people from the Marasia islet has begun, so Greece might have invaded Turkey after all”. In the context of information from Politico that Turkiye “took dozens back” from the islets on request from the Greek government, Lena K further noted: “Unless we unquestionably accept the islet is Turkish, although the Greek authorities have made false claims about islet sovereignty before, this is a mass pushback. Even if people were on Turkish territory, there are significant implications for seeking protection and free movement”. On 8 June, Hotline Alarm Phone reported that “While some people were returned to Türkiye, others are still stuck on different islets. They state clearly that they want to apply for asylum. If returned to Türkiye, many fear deportation to Syria”. Pointing to the responsibility of both the caretaker (interim) Prime Minister Ioannis Sarmas and state-owned media – turning the situation into a security issue – the Greek outlet Efsyn (translated) describes how it has provoked: “a new wave of direct or veiled anti-refugee rhetoric in public discourse”. Following elections in both countries – in Greece still in process – caretaker (interim) Foreign Minister Vassilis Kaskarelis and Turkije’s new Foreign Minister, Hakan Fidan discussed the increase of increase of crossings in the Evros region in a phone call on 6 June. Meanwhile, reportedly a young Moroccan man was shot by Turkish military guards while trying to cross into Greece via the Evros River and is now transferred to Didymoteicho Hospital where he is currently undergoing surgery.
In a Joint statement by borderline-europe, Aegean Migrant Solidarity, Can’t Evict Solidarity and Legal Centre Lesvos, state: ”On 08 June, the appeal trial against Abdallah, Kheiraldin and Mohamad, known as the Paros3, will take place on the Greek island of Syros. Because they had steered the boat on which they and around 80 other people tried to reach Europe, they were sentenced to a total of 439 years for smuggling on 05 June 2022. They have already spent 1.5 years in prison”. The organisations: “demand their immediate release from prison, freedom for all those arrested for boat driving and an end to the criminalization of migration and incarceration of people on the move!”.
For further information:
- ECRE, Greece: Elections on Both Sides of the Border as Pushbacks and Push for Returns Continue, Border Guards Arrested in Evros – More Deaths in the Aegean, June 2023
- ECRE, Greece: Government Praise Own ‘Achievements’ on Migration Ahead of Election as Violations Continue, Situation in Closed Controlled Facilities Raise EU Concern and NGO Condemnation, May 2023