Blunt human rights abuse persist at land and at sea in Greece. Brutal pushbacks by Greek officials in the past days were reported from the Evros region and off Lesvos. Mare Liberum reports about 55 pushback cases in the Aegean, affecting a total of 1,479 people in the first three months of the year. Meanwhile, the Greek coast guard received new equipment and praise from Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. The situation for recognised refugees in Greece has further deteriorated and dozens of people ended up on the streets after an informal camp was dismantled in Rhodes. A new report highlights the systematic exclusion of refugee children from the education system across Greece.

The past week continued to be marked by human rights violations at hands of Greek officials at land and at sea. Alarm Phone, an NGO hotline for people in distress, reported about a life-threatening incident that took place in the Aegean Sea near Lesvos on 14 April. On that day, the Greek coast guard pushed 46 people attempting to reach Greece back to Turkish waters where they were picked up by the Turkish coast guard. One of the survivors told Alarm Phone “Greek police threw a man with a rope into the water, then took him to their boat and beat him and threw him back into the water. We rescued the man from the water ourselves.”

On 9 April, a group of 33 people, including six children, was abandoned without shelter, food, or water on an island in Evros river by Greek officials. Reportedly, border forces on both the Greek and Turkish sides were preventing them from crossing by shooting whenever the people tried to cross. A member of the group who attempted to pass the river is thought to have drowned after being swept away by the current. A body was retrieved on the Turkish shore on 11 April but has not yet been identified. After staying on the island for two days amid freezing temperatures during the night, Greek police recollected the group, and reportedly searched and beat them once again, and transferred them to a different island where “many people” were already gathered. On the morning of 12 April Turkish authorities arrived on the islands saying they would transfer the estimated 120 people to a detention facility.

In the first quarter of the year, Mare Liberum, an NGO that monitors human rights in the Aegean Sea as part of the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN), counted 55 pushback cases in the Aegean, affecting a total of 1,479 people. Of these people, 551 were abandoned in life rafts at sea. At least 12 people are considered missing or have died in the context of illegal pushbacks since the beginning of the year. The German news outlet Der Spiegel reports that Frontex counts 132 “interceptions” by Greek forces during Frontex operations in the Aegean Sea since March 2020. This was revealed through the answer to a parliamentary question that referred to internal Frontex statistics.

On 15 April, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis attended a ceremony for the inauguration of two new vessels for the Hellenic Coast Guard. During his speech he emphasised: “With the experience of Evros and the Aegean, I would describe the Coast Guard vessels as floating border outposts. Because, despite what we have heard in the past, the sea has borders.” The expansion of the Greek patrol fleet by four vessels worth more than 55 million euros is just one aspect of a wider plan to strengthen the logistical infrastructure of the coast guard.

On 14 April, police forces dismantled an informal camp at a former slaughterhouse in Rhodes. The more than one hundred people who had been staying at the site were first registered and tested for Covid-19 and then transferred to different hosting facilities. However, at least 40 to 50 people, including families with young children, ended up homeless in Athens.

A recent expert opinion by ECRE member Pro Asyl and Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) points out the increasing deterioration of the precarious living conditions beneficiaries of international protection face in Greece. This includes homelessness and a lack of social benefits or other kinds of support. According to Pro Asyl, “The Greek government simply lacks the political will to guarantee the human dignity of refugees. The worst fears have seemingly come true: While newly arriving people who seek protection are systematically beaten back to Turkey or abandoned at sea, those granted international protection status are left destitute.” Between January and March, about 2,900 people who hold international protection status in Greece have applied for asylum in Germany. For the whole of 2020, this number stood at about 7,100 applicants. In January, a higher German court ruled against return of people with protection status in Greece.

Refugee children across Greece remain systematically excluded from the education system, a new report by RSA finds. According to RSA, “The exclusion of refugee children from the Greek education system reached record levels during the COVID-19 pandemic […] Many children have been unable to attend school for over a year, while others have never managed to enrol.” Enrolment rates are lowest on the islands, where the vast majority of children cannot access education, not even non-formal programmes. According to RSA, “The insistence on the part of the government and the European Commission on large-scale camp facilities for the reception of asylum seekers located far from urban centres corroborates fears of further exclusion and segregation.” Last week, the municipal council of Mytilene on Lesvos has given its green light for the construction of a new migrant hosting facility with a capacity for 3,000 people. The exact location of the camp is yet to be clarified but reports stated it will be in a remote location, away from any towns or villages. The Memorandum on the planned facility includes schooling on site where public school attendance is not possible.

The Greek newspaper Kathimerini reports that the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum is also planning to pilot an “integration camp” for about 1,000 people at a currently operating facility in Eleion. People who hold international protection status in Greece could attend Greek language courses, computer courses, and job counselling.

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Photo: ECRE

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