Amid mounting reports of systematic pushbacks, violations and robbing of people on the move committed by authorities with impunity and the criminalization of refugees continue.
The evidence of systematic pushbacks and abuse by Greek authorities continues to mount. A recent report from ECRE member, the Greek Council of Refugees (GCR), entitled ‘At Europe’s Borders: Between Impunity and Criminalization’ documents cases of pushbacks in the Evros border region and the Aegean islands. In the conclusion of the report, GCR writes: “A detailed analysis of witness testimonies on pushback cases in Greece over the period of one year, sheds light on these illegal activities as a comprehensive, systematic, and carefully planned migration and border policy of the Greek government. This becomes evident through the consistent patterns and characteristics of these complex operations as described by victims, which contradict the narrative of ‘lack of evidence’ on these rights violations that is still perpetuated by EU and Greek authorities”. A narrative that according to GCR: “has led to a situation of chronic impunity for the perpetrators and a lack of access to justice for victims of these rights violations at Europe’s borders”. Further, GCR points out how the “illegal migration and border policy evolves over time, as the Greek state adjusts its operational strategy in the perpetration of pushbacks in an attempt to circumvent relevant Court rulings, rather than ending the illegal practice” and outlines the “expansion of its targets” with the crack-down on human rights defenders, through “intimidation, defamation and criminalization”. All cases featured in the report are legally represented by GCR and submitted before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and/or the Greek Public Prosecutor. Meanwhile, in a press release, MEPs expressed concern over threats to EU values in Greece. “The treatment of migrants at the external borders and domestically, including reports about systematic pushbacks, violence, arbitrary detention and theft of their belongings, is highly unsettling”, the release states, and called for an end to criminalization of journalists and NGOs reporting on migration and enhancement of all initiatives contributing to more transparency, such as the pushback reporting mechanism.
According to a new investigation by El Pais and Solomon, Greek authorities have stolen more than 2 million Euro in cash and valuables from irregular migrants or refugees between 2017 to 2022 when more than 20,000 people were pushed back to Turkiye across the Evros border. ٍSince the crisis on the Turkish-Greek border, pushbacks didn’t only happen along the border but also were extended inland for hundreds of kilometers. Hope Barker, from the BVMN confirms. The investigation confirms a modus operandi beyond the robbing of belongings involving also denial of access to claim asylum, detention in police stations, warehouses or military barracks, violence and pushbacks to Turkiye, often on inflatable rafts. “When you take away their phones, you get rid of any evidence that they were there. When you take their money, you make their lives more difficult. When you leave them naked, another trend on the rise, you humiliate and demoralize them. It’s part of a strategy to dissuade them from trying to get back into Greece again” Eva Cosse from Human Rights Watch told El Pais. The report’s findings are based on testimonies from people on the move, various NGOs as well as institutions, experts and residents on the borders. A 22-year-old Syrian man, who was arrested in a forest near Evros by the Greek forces and later pushed back to Turkey, reported beating and theft of all his belongings including his phone, which he was forced to unlock. “When they put me in the car I realized they had a lot of phones and power banks in there. When one of the men took a cigarette out of his pocket, I saw that he had a wad of bills. I think they were taken from others earlier,” he said.
Meanwhile, the crackdown on people on the move in Greece continues. On 6 February, the trial against Egyptian fisherman H. Elfallah took place in Crete. Elfallah faced charges over the alleged smuggling of 476 people because he was among those who steered a boat that left from Libya towards Europe in November 2022. Borderline Europe, stated: “It should go without saying that a boat needs to be piloted by someone, especially a boat of this size. It is common that, if there are people in the group who have at least some seafaring experience, they take over the steering duties,” further noting: “which only makes sense and should be in the interest of everyone who claims to have the welfare of the people on board in mind. H. Elfallah, a fisherman with seafaring experience, actually made the trip safer for everyone!”. In reaction to the sentencing of Elfallah who could have faced a total of 4760 years in prison, the organisation stated: “the fisherman from Egypt, was sentenced this morning to 280 years. He was found guilty, although the court “took into account his reasons.” Absurdly, a “good” result considering that he had risked up to 10 years per transported person”.
On the same day, the appeal hearing in a case where six young Afghan men were charged and eventually convicted of the felony of arson following the fire in September 2020 destroying the notorious Moria camp, of which they were residents, began on Lesvos. Solomon reports on the sentencing of the group, often referred to as the ‘Moria six’, stating: “Despite their claims of being minors, only two of the six were identified as minors. The two minors were sentenced to five years’ incarceration and sent to Avlona prison. The four remaining defendants, who were identified as adults, were each sentenced with 10-year jail terms, with the court refusing to consider any mitigating factors”. The Solomon report: “presents the gaps in the judicial process, as well as the results of the interdisciplinary research by Forensic Architecture and Forensis, which cast doubt on the evidence on which the young men’s conviction was based”. Further, the NGO outlet stated: “The main witness in the case, until now, was declared as having an “unknown residence”. He did not give testimony during the trial of the case in the first instance. He was suddenly found to be residing in Athens, as confirmed by authorities”. The appeal case involving four of the defendants scheduled for 8 March was postponed for another year “after waiting in the courtroom handcuffed in pairs”. The other two minors will have their case heard at the Supreme Court on 10 March. “During this year, the 4 young men convicted for the 2020 #Moria fires will likely remain in prison, despite the lack of any credible evidence against them, and despite procedural errors which should have led to the annulment of the procedure”, their legal representatives Lesvos Legal Center communicated.
For further information:
- ECRE, Greece: Further “Fortification” of Borders and More Vessels for Hellenic Coast Guard as Situation for Refugees in Türkiye Worsens Following Earthquakes, Series Reports on Systematic Detention and Abuse, March 2023
- ECRE, Greece: Deadly Tragedies in the Aegean and Survivors Facing Charges, Council of State Refers Safe Third Country Questions to CJEU, Scrutiny of Closed Controlled Camps, February 2023
This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.