- Asylum-seekers face pushbacks from the Hellenic Coast Guard on different Greek islands.
- Several reports reveal inhumane and ‘gross’ practices directed towards migrants and asylum seekers.
- The European Court of Human Rights has condemned the Greek authorities’ treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in multiple cases.
Crossing attempts to Greece continue despite pushbacks. On 26 January Alarm Phone reported that fourteen people were missing while nine were taken to a Greek camp in Chios. On 24 January￼, the hotline also reported that thirty-three people were in distress near Lesvos. The people told the hotline that two vessels carrying the EU flag were sailing close to them, adding “Instead of assisting the group, these boats are causing big waves.” Hours later, the group reported that they had been “pushed back into Turkish waters.” Later they added: “We are now being towed by the Turkish coast guard back into Greek waters.” On 22 January, one person with health issues was in need of urgent assistance. Two days later, the Greek authorities informed Alarm Phone that the person “stayed at the police station in Leros overnight and will be transferred to Chios.” On 20 January, a group of 36 people was rescued by a merchant vessel after multiple calls by Alarm Phone to rescue coordination centres in Greece, Egypt and Libya. On the same day, in Farmakonissi, 20 migrants were rescued while four are still reported missing after their boat capsized. According to CNN Greece, the search for the four people is ongoing under the coordination of the Hellenic Coast Guard and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex). On 19 January, a day before the shipwreck in Farmakonissi, twelve Palestinians were found drifting in a Greek-manufactured life raft in Turkish waters near the island of Kastellorizo. Tineke Strik MEP condemned the pushback stating: “The Palestinians not only suffer from attacks in Gaza and the West Bank but also when they seek refuge in Europe. The consistent denial of their rights is appalling. Palestinians deserve a sovereign state, and protection and support on their way to independence.” On the same day, more pushbacks were reported by Alarm Phone after 15 people who arrived on the island of Ro were sent back to Turkish waters. Upon contacting the Turkish coast guard, Alarm Phone was informed that the migrants had been transported to Türkiye.
Meanwhile, the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) published a report revealing widespread violence in Greek camps and detention centres. According to the report, the migrants were punished for as little as coughing and ‘making eye contact’ with officials. The inhumane punishments and beatings in the camps and detention centres, most of them funded by the EU, raise questions of accountability and the EU’s responsibility for them. “Public funding being poured into these camps should go to helping people seeking safety, not locking them up,” said BVMN. “The EU‘s complicity in the violence against people on the move in Greek camps is crystal clear. Not only does the EU fund those camps, but with adopting the New Pact on Migration it will institutionalise these detention camps all over the EU…Closed camps are never a solution” said Cornelia Ernst MEP. The Forensic Architecture group also published an update on ‘drift-backs.’ According to the report, in the past three years, there have been over 2000 cases of drift-backs in the Aegean Sea and 55,445 people have been deported, 24 have lost their lives and 17 have disappeared. Frontex is recorded as being directly involved in 122 push-backs and having knowledge of 417 more. In December 2023, the European Parliament (EP) resolved to scale down Frontex’s operation and have ‘an effective border agency compliant with fundamental rights’ as MEPs expressed “serious concerns about the serious and persistent allegations against the Greek authorities in relation to refoulements and violence against migrants”.Meanwhile, the Hellenic Integration Support for Beneficiaries of International Protection and Temporary Protection (HELIOS) suspended its operations in Greece as of 1 January. HELIOS, a project which was funded by the country’s Ministry of Migration and Asylum, and implemented by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), provided accommodation support, professional counselling, support in integration-related courses and promoted social cohesion for people who have been granted protection in Greece. IOM Greece stated that “interruption in project funding” was the reason for shutting down the project. “It is necessary and imperative to immediately resume the programme, to ensure its continuous and uninterrupted funding, as well as to expand its criteria and the services provided in order to comprehensively and effectively address systemic deficiencies in refugees’ access to documents and social rights in Greece” said Refugee Support Aegean (RSA)
On January 23, the ECtHR awarded €8000 to a 15-year-old unaccompanied Afghan asylum seeker (O.R) for a breach of Article 3 of the European convention on Human Rights (ECHR) on the grounds that he was left homeless for six months by the Greek authorities. The Court found that O.R had been “left to fend for himself in an environment that was entirely unsuitable for minors – whether in terms of security, accommodation, hygiene or access to food and care or in terms of the measures taken to provide for him more generally – and in unacceptably precarious circumstances, given his status as an asylum-seeker and unaccompanied minor”. On 18 January, the ECtHR ruled in favor of an unaccompanied child (T.K) in Samos. According to the ECtHR, the wrongful registration of the applicant as an adult and the subsequent failure to correct this in a timely manner constituted a violation of his family and private life under Article 8 of the ECHR. The Court also underlined that the living conditions that the child endured amounted to inhumane and degrading treatment. ECRE member organization I Have Rights, which represented the victim, issued a press release in which it stated: “Despite the growing number of rulings from the Strasbourg court, Greece continues to confine asylum seekers to Samos, with the newly opened EU-funded Samos Closed Controlled Access Centre (CCAC), criticized for its securitized and degrading environment”. The organisation also warned that “With the New Pact on Migration and Asylum…the proposed reforms may perpetuate inhumane conditions throughout Europe.” In a joint press statement with Human Rights Legal Project and Avocats Sans Frontieres, the NGO reported that “the Greek Ombudsman has found that the Reception and Identification Service (RIS) of the Samos Closed Controlled Access Centre (CCAC) unlawfully restricts lawyers’ access to the site.” The organisations had complained about the restricted legal support available to the asylum seekers and the constraints around said support. On January 18, the ECtHR ruled in favor of an unaccompanied child (T.K) in Samos. According to the ECtHR, the wrongful registration of the applicant as an adult and failure to correct in time violated his family and private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), underlining that law. In a separate case, on 16 January, the ECtHR awarded €80,000 to the family and children of Belal Tello, who was shot in the head by Greek coastguards as they attempted to stop the boat in which he and others were travelling. In a press release issued on 24 January, UN experts praised this ruling and insisted that “The rights of migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees, in particular the right to life and the principle of nonrefoulement, must always be protected in accordance with international human rights law and international refugee law”. The case “demonstrates once again the recorded systemic deficiencies in the planning and implementation of Coast Guard operations as well as in the investigation of human rights violations at sea,” noted RSA in a statement.
For further information:
- ECRE, Greece: New Year Starts as It Ended with Shipwrecks, Pushbacks, and Violence Against People on the Move, Greek Authorities Once Again Condemned Over Violations of Refugee and Asylum Seekers’ Rights, Solidarity with Migrants Back on Trial, January 2024
- ECRE, ECtHR: Greece violated both the substantive and procedural aspects of Article 2 ECHR due to excessive use of force by the coastguard, January 2024