As Greece continues systematic violations, of EU and international law the Union continues to supply declarations of support and billion Euro funding and fails to acknowledge and act on mounting evidence. Following the scandals of the EU Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex),the EU Asylum Agency (EUAA) is accused of serious misconduct and neglect of human rights obligations. Türkiye is increasingly unsafe for refugees but remains ‘safe’ for asylum seekers in Greece.
There is no shortage of documentation of systematic non-response to alerts of people in distress often in spite of interim measures from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and pushbacks by land and sea by Greek authorities in violation of EU and international law. Evidence of pushbacks and calls for EU action including from MEPs, investigative journalists, human rights institutions and NGOs have been mounting for years and the Aegean Boat Report alone has compiled evidence from refugees and volunteers documenting the pushback of 48,983 people from Greek islands into Turkish waters between 1 January 2017 to 28 November 2022. Solomon recently ran a feature on “Seven Turkish ex-soldiers and a teacher, convicted this year in their native Turkey over alleged links to the man accused of masterminding a failed 2016 coup” reportedly, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) urged Greek authorities “to provide protection, but instead the men were pushed back to sea and into the arms of the Turkish police”. German media outlet Frankfurter Rundschau recently published a report of the death of the Syrian national, Akram Abdulkadir in July, after being maltreated by Greek militias leaving his body in the Evros region where deaths of people on the move has become “all too commonplace”.
The Greek government has continued to deflect and deny such evidence often referring to Turkish instrumentalisation of migration or finding alternative phrasing such as blocking or averting “illegal” entry. According to the Hellenic Police, more than 230,000 people were “prevented” from entering Greece from January to October this year but as pointed out by Minos Mouzourakis from Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) leaving NGO’s as well as the European Commission “none the wiser on how these stats are counted”. In August this year, the Commission was: “deeply concerned about all reports and allegations of pushbacks and mistreatment, and underlined that: ”Any act of violence or pushback is illegal and must be investigated by the national authorities responsible to establish the facts and take the necessary follow-up actions”. However, the willingness to confront violations in Greece has been modest at EU level and both solidarity declarations from top officials and significant financial support remain the order of the day. Following an extraordinary meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council (JHA) on 25 November, Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi thanked Vice-President of the European Commission, Margaritis Schinas for providing 1.9 billion euros to Greece for the management of migration.
The publishing of a leaked report from the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) on Frontex by Spiegel left NGOs and media with a confirmation of Greek violations. “Even though it wasn’t the main focus of the investigation, the report relentlessly exposes how Greek border guards in the Aegean Sea abandon refugees at sea on inflatable life rafts to prevent them from exercising their right to apply for asylum”, Spiegel wrote at the time. However, an OLAF spokesperson recently rejected that the report can be used as evidence against Greece as it “examined only charges related to Frontex’s internal procedures and regulations during the execution of its officials’ duties”. Reportedly, diplomatic sources in Brussels refer to “strong displeasure within OLAF over the leaking of the report and the attempt to politicize it by distorting its contents and conclusions”. The sources do not clarify how pointing out violations of EU and international law constitutes politicizing or distorting the investigation’s findings.
Scrutiny including by OLAF was part of the pressure on Frontex culminating in the resignation of former executive director, Fabrice Leggeri in April. The agency, currently in the process of finding a replacement for Leggeri, has reached an agreement with the Greek government “on a series of activities which are expected to bring better results in the process of returning irregular migrants to their countries of origin”. Given the recent history of Frontex cooperation with Greece, ECRE remains sceptical of such an agreement. Meanwhile, following claims of serious mismanagement, misconduct and neglect of human rights obligations, OLAF has launched an investigation of the EU Asylum Agency (EUAA). According to Solomon, the allegations “echoes of the scandal that engulfed Frontex”. The NGO founded in Athens, states: “The latest claims suggest serious governance and accountability issues are becoming endemic to the agencies tasked with implementing EU policy towards refugees and migrants. These internal, organisational issues are once again accompanied by an alleged failure to react to human rights violations at the bloc’s borders”. According to Solomon, the agency was asked in August by lawyers from RSA to explain how it had followed up on reported pushbacks with Executive Director Nina Gregori, responding that such reports was “outside of the scope of the Code of Conduct and related incident Report Mechanism”. A spokesperson for the agency stated that while asylum is a fundamental right: “it is likewise absolutely clear that border control – and therefore potential pushbacks – falls under the mandate of Frontex. The EUAA has no competence in border control”. That interpretation is disputed by experts and assistant professor of EU law at the University of Leiden, Melanie Fink, stated: “Their legal obligation does not stem only from their founding regulation,” pointing out: “The entirety of EU law and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights applies, and they are bound by it. These include positive obligations to react to fundamental rights violations”. The EUAA is currently recruiting an officer to oversee its compliance with its human rights obligations and is expected to create a complaints mechanism similar to the one in place at Frontex.
On 1 December, the Greek government announced the annual update of the list of safe countries of origin and transit. Türkiye remains on the list as a safe third country for applicants for international protection for main refugee groups from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Somalia meaning their asylum claims can be deemed inadmissible. According to Minos Mouzourakis, a significant drop in the first instance recognition rates for people originating from those three of those countries – Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia from the second to the third quarter of 2022 is “illustrating safe third country decisions” considering that Eurostat counts safe third country decisions as rejections. NGOs have urged a repeal of the list However, as reported by ECRE the situation for refugees in Türkiye has been deteriorating with increasing hate speech, attacks and deportations. A report on Türkiye by the European Commission related to Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations released on 12 October pointed to: “Recurrent allegations of human rights violations in the field of migration and asylum, particularly in removal centres remain a concern… NGOs have noted reports of detainees being coerced to sign voluntary return forms in removal centres and an increase in hate crimes and incidents motivated by anti-refugee sentiments and are a cause for concern”. In late November Amnesty International and Human Right Watch (HRW) presented their respective reports of Syrian and Afghan refugees facing “arrest, detention, ill-treatment & deportation” in Türkiye to EU officials. The independent Syrian outlet Enab Baladi reports of an “unprecedented turn on the Turkish side” in the approach to people on the move with border guards: “detaining and forcibly deporting them upon their return or during their crossing to Greece”.
For further information:
- ECRE, Greece: Calls for Safe and Legal Pathways Reiterated as Three More Bodies are Recovered in the Aegean, As Government Remains Defiant in the Face of Mounting Evidence of Violations EU Top Official Declare Support, November 2022
- ECRE, Greece: Two Deadly Shipwrecks in the Aegean, Continued Pushbacks and Non-Response by Authorities, NGOs Urge a Repeal of Safe Third Country List, November 2022
This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.