A Border Criminologies blog post reiterates the violent pushbacks from Greece to Turkey as well as abuse of migrants on both sides of the Greek Turkish border. While the Reception and Identification Centre VIAL on Chios under gradual closure is in a deplorable state, Minister of Immigration and Asylum, Notis Mitarakis claims that a new controlled structure is well underway to replace the overcrowded Vathi camp on Samos. The lack of support and the barriers to access basic socio-economic rights for beneficiaries of international protection in Greece creates homelessness and extreme deprivation.

A Border Criminologies blog post released by University of Oxford Faculty of Law entitled ‘Weaponising Geography on the Greek-Turkish Border’ reiterates the mounting evidence of systematic violent pushbacks from Greece to Turkey, stating: “Driven by the perverse logic of a flawed deterrence strategy, Greek authorities have beaten, tortured, sexually assaulted and killed migrants”. However, the blog also establishes that “Turkey is no innocent bystander” and referring to the Evros region it states: “the fact that these islands lie in a murky area of international jurisprudence allows both Turkey and Greece to not only perpetrate this violence with relative impunity, but also obscure their agency”. The blog describes the consequences for migrants caught in the middle of a geographical showdown and urges: “With Greece and Turkey attempting to blur their responsibility in the shifting sands of the Evros river, we must be constantly vigilant to new forms of violence as and when they are constructed”. Turkish Interior Minister, Suleyman Soylu on 19 March accused Greek coast guard units of beating up seven people and leaving them at sea without a lifeboat off the Greek island of Chios. According to the Turkish coast guard three were found dead in the water off the Turkish Aegean coast, while three were rescued and one remains missing. 16 people reportedly arrived to Lesvos by boat on 19 March and after being detected in the mountains have been transferred for quarantine in the north of the island.

The Greek government has faced widespread critique of the dire conditions in the squalid camps across the country as well as increasing local resistance to its plans to implement new permanent structures largely funded by the EU. In a statement from 24 March announcing a visit to Lesvos, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson outlined the substantial EU contribution to camp facilities in Greece: “We have over 155 million euros dedicated to building reception centre on Lesvos and Chios. In addition, a further 121m for smaller centres on the islands of Samos, Kos and Leros. In total over a quarter of a billion euros”. Allegedly partly as the result of local pressure, the government has dismantled parts of the overcrowded VIAL Reception and Identification Centre on Samos where 1,800 people now live under extreme conditions in broken or make-shift tents, rivers of dirt, mountains of rubbish and mice and animal carcasses. During a visit to Samos Minister of Immigration and Asylum, Notis Mitarakis expressed confidence that a new controlled structure to replace the notorious Vathi camp would be operational in the second quarter of 2021. Downplaying the local resistance Mitarakis stated: “In Samos they want the new structure. There is also a decision of the municipal council to proceed with the project” and noted: “There has been controversy over capacity, as is usually the case”.

According to a legal note from Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) and ECRE member Pro Asyl, high obstacles to accessing the necessary documentation and rights leave an increasing number of people granted international protection at risk of homelessness and destitution, while courts across Europe deal with a rising number of returns of recognized refugees to Greece.

The Aegean Islands Weekly Snapshot by UNHCR Greece reveals that 38 people arrived on the Aegean islands from 16 to 21 March, a decrease from 53 arrivals the week prior and from last year’s 334 arrivals during the same period. The average daily arrivals on all islands this week equaled 5, compared to 8 in the previous week.

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