Amid new reports of abuse, Minister for Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarakis rejects the need for a human rights monitoring mechanism at Greek borders, stating that it would infringe upon national sovereignty. While the number of people in the Greek island hotspots and in facilities managed by the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum has seen a significant drop, German authorities are facing more than 27,000 asylum claims from people already registered in Greece.

Following repeated demands from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and European Commission for a rights monitoring mechanism at the Greek borders, Minister Notis Mitarakis has disregarded the need for any such mechanism. According to the Minister, this would jeopardise Greece’s national sovereignty. When questioned in parliament, he stated that there is no legislation proposed by the European Commission and noted that Greece would engage in negotiations within the Council of EU but sees no reason to address a problem that the government does “consider to exist”. The Minister does not comment on the fact that a human rights monitoring mechanism is a precondition for the release of migration management funding requested by Greece from the European Commission. The EU has supplied Greece with 3.3 billion in funds since the peak of arrivals in 2015.

Meanwhile, reports of abuse continue to mount. On September 24 a cargo ship rescued 152 people including 81 men, 23 women and 48 children from Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan off the islet of Schiza near the coast of the Peloponnese. The group – in distress after their wooden boat started to take in water – was en route from Turkey to Italy. Reportedly, a pregnant woman fell in the water during the transfer to the larger ship and was not able to be rescued. After repeated interrogations by Greek police onboard the boat, the people were forced ashore and detained. They were held at a childcare facility on Crete, where they were placed in isolation under poor conditions. Reportedly, they lack access to interpreters, legal procedures, and information on what will happen to them. The Greek detention system has been repeatedly criticised, including by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), a Council of Europe committee that this month appointed new members. According to the Kurdistan Cultural Center of Greece, at least two men from the group detained in Crete were beaten and tortured with waterboarding to reveal the name of the person steering the boat. In what Borderline-Europe has called “another absurd boat driving trial”, a 26-year-old man was recently sentenced to 44 years imprisonment and a fine of 25,000 euros by the Mytilene appeal court for steering the boat in which he and his wife arrived in along with 20 other people. Turkish authorities reported on 26 September the interception and detainment of 254 people attempting to make an irregular departure from Turkish shores, presumably in an attempt to reach Europe. The group counted nationals from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. On the same day the Alarm Phone reported losing contact with six people including a teenager arriving on Kos: the NGO hotline was provided no information on their location from Greek authorities. Aegean Boat Report on 30 September reported of 26 people splitting into smaller groups and hiding in the woods after arriving to Lesvos in fear of being pushed back by Greek authorities. According to the organisation within the last 18 months, 361 life rafts, carrying more than 6,300 people, have been found drifting in the Aegean Sea.

The camp population in the hotspots on the Aegean islands has dropped by 81 per cent, from 27,576 in August last year to 5,264 people in August 2021. During the same period the population in facilities managed by the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum across Greece fell from 82,119 to 42,181. The onwards movement from Greece has been noticeable: by the end of August, Germany was processing 27,500 asylum claims from people already registered in Greece, a number that was up by nearly 4,000 claims over the four past months. Meanwhile, just 11 persons were transferred back to Greece in 2020 under the Dublin III Regulation. This extremely modest number is a result of difficulties sending countries face in obtaining guarantees that require the assessment of the situation in Greece, inter alia regarding access to the asylum procedure and reception as well as the risk of chain refoulement, or more recently the impact of the health pandemic on national systems. Further, national courts in member states such as Germany and the Netherlands have suspended returns to Greece because of inadequate reception conditions and the risk of inhuman or degrading treatment in Greece. Germany and the Netherlands were among six Schengen state signatories to a letter in June that raised “great concern” over “secondary movement” from Greece and asked the European Commission to examine: “compliance with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and other relevant European legal standards regarding the (asylum) procedural guarantees and the accommodation and living conditions of asylum applicants and persons granted international protection in Greece”. On the other hand, Greek authorities are seeking to reduce the number of refugees living in the country through bilateral agreements with other member states. On 28 September 41 Afghans already granted protection in Greece left Athens for Portugal: these were the first people to be transferred under a bilateral agreement to relocate 1,000 people. On the same day 11 unaccompanied children arrived to France from Greece under the EU relocation mechanism.

On 27 September the Greek Health Ministry put forward a bill stipulating that people without legal documents and rejected asylum seekers can receive COVID-19 vaccinations without facing deportation.

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