Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) report adds to mounting evidence of violations along the borders of Greece. “Groundbreaking” decisions by the Court of Syros recognise that refugees cannot commit the offense of facilitation of illegal entry of third nationals and of illegal transfer of third nationals

The conclusion of the report ‘In plain sight The Human Cost of Migration Policies and Violent Practices at Greek Sea Borders’ released by MSF on 2 November confirms and reiterates the full cycle of abuse at Greek borders: “From August 2021 to July 2023, MSF provided emergency medical assistance to 7,904 asylum seekers who had recently arrived on Samos and Lesvos. Throughout this two-year period, MSF teams have responded to and collected accounts of violence and pushback practices at the Greek border. Testimonies from MSF patients describe how their lives were put in danger by being forcibly pushed back to Turkey, both at sea and from land. People arriving on the Aegean islands report being subjected to violent practices, including their dinghies being surrounded, waves being made to destabilise them, being assaulted by masked individuals, having guns pointed at them, and their dinghies being damaged or towed by rope. People also described how they were intercepted after arrival on the islands, reportedly taken by uniformed officers and/or unidentified masked individuals, detained (often unofficially) before being forcibly transferred to a coast guard vessel, transported to Turkish waters and put on a life raft. During these interceptions, people describe being beaten, strip-searched, subjected to intrusive body searches, detained and abused. Practices which involve removing people from the Aegean islands, whether from sea or land, are illegal and can have traumatic mental and physical consequences, including the loss of life. MSF teams have borne witness to how normalised pushbacks have become, and to the stark absence of protection for people who seek safety in Greece. Despite extensive and credible evidence, Greek authorities, the EU and its member states have failed to hold to account the perpetrators of these violations. This climate of impunity helps reinforce and normalise these inhuman practices. As this report details, violent pushback practices inflict intense physical and psychological suffering, with consequences for the health, safety, well-being and lives of people attempting to seek protection in Greece”. The report adds to the ever-mounting body of evidence on Greek violations. Meanwhile, Greek migration minister, Dimitris Kairidis detects a “u-turn” in the Turkish migration policy. According to Turkish authorities 140,000 undocumented people attempting to cross into Europe since the beginning of the year have been arrested and some 40,000 had been deported to their countries of origin. Commenting on the numbers, Kairidis said: “These are all very positive, and we see especially on the land border with Greece and Bulgaria a very determined action on the part of Turkey’s security forces, army police and gendarmerie, to do away with smugglers and flows”. Greek statistics published on 1 November shows a decrease in arrivals by land and sea of 42 per cent.

Human Rights Legal Project stated on 30 October: “Greek court has finally ruled that REFUGEES cannot be charged with facilitating illegal entry”. The organisation refers to: “two groundbreaking decisions” by the Court of Syros recognising that refugees “are excluded from the scope of Law 4251/2014 on Immigration, Social Integration Code and other provisions, and therefore cannot commit the offense of facilitation of illegal entry of third nationals and of illegal transfer of third nationals”. According to Human Rights Legal Project: “Similarly to pushbacks, the criminalization of migration is a state policy, in contravention with human rights principles, designed to prevent asylum seekers from entering Greece. In most cases, the authorities pick one or more passengers, usually men, often the one who is driving the boat, and accuse them of smuggling or facilitating the illegal entry of third-country nationals. These charges are extremely serious and clients represented by HR lawyers LP have faced sentences up to 250 years of imprisonment. These accusations only serve a political purpose and lack  legal ground. 96% of our clients have been either acquitted of all charges or received very reduced sentences”.

On 24 October, Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) published a podcast on the Farmakonisi case. The case involves a deadly shipwreck in 2014 killing 11 people including eight children that led to a landmark ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2022 condemning Greece. With reference to the recent shipwreck in Pylos in June, RSA states: “It is time to finally address structural problems which are directly related to the Greek and European policy on asylum and migration, leading to systematic violations of fundamental rights and often to people’s death”. Greek authorities remain under scrutiny over the Pylos shipwreck that left more than 700 people dead or missing in June of this year. RSA wrote on 2 November, in the context of the alleged failure of the Hellenic Coast Guard to record the tragedy: “The events surrounding the shipwreck are riddled with contradictions and marked by extreme delays in taking proper action. A significant part of these questions could be answered objectively if the vessel 920 recorded the operation with the cameras it has, as it should”. The organisation further points out: “There arises a reasonable question – why, especially in the case of the shipwreck in Pylos, was the relevant recording material not taken and/or made public from the vessel that was operating at the site, even though it was present for several hours before the shipwreck?”. On 8 November, MEP Stelios Kouloglou is organising the workshop at the European Parliament entitled “Autopsy of a crime: 6 months after the shipwreck of Pylos” aiming to shed light on the circumstances under which the ship sank and to seek responsibility for this unspeakable tragedy. Meanwhile, the Hellenic Coast Guard has reported the signing of a contract for the procurement of 5 Watercat 2000 Patrol Type Speed ​​Boats, valued at €17 million, with an option to acquire an additional 5 boats. According to Greek media: “This significant project is primarily funded by the European Union’s Special Action “FRONTEX Organization Equipment,” with a substantial co-financing rate of 90% from the Internal Security Fund of 2014-2020”.

Further, Greece will receive an additional 42.2 million euros in funding from the European Union including for “Optimization of the repercussions of electronic surveillance through enforced communications connections – Boosting the Hellenic Police’s ability to supervise land borders”. The funding will reportedly cover the cost of buying 27 incident management mobile centres (MIMC) for land border patrols and surveillance of non-accessible areas. Meanwhile, 300 trained interpreters in 63 languages and dialects covering the communication needs in asylum procedures, in the Structures and in all Reception and Identification Centers across Greece, will be reduced by approximately 80%. According to the Mobile Info Team, this “significantly impacting info, registration & examination of asylum claims”.

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