Refugees attempting to cross the EU’s external borders with Turkey are systematically pushed back from Greek territorial waters, the Greek islands and from the land border. The accounts of 90 refugees who were illegally pushed back are detailed in a new report published yesterday by ECRE Member organisation Pro Asyl.
The majority of the victims are refugees from Syria but interviewees also include people from Afghanistan, Somalia and Eritrea, who are likely to be persons in need of international protection. “The EU publicly repeats its commitment to help Syrian refugees, but human rights are being ignored and violated at the border”, said Karl Kopp, Pro Asyl Director of European Affairs, at the launch of the report co-organised by ECRE.
According to the interviewees’ eyewitness accounts and given the make-up of the groups with which they travelled, Pro Asyl estimates that over 2,000 persons were pushed back within a year without being given the opportunity to request international protection or to challenge their illegal removal.
The testimonies of refugees interviewed by Pro Asyl detail how masked Special Forces of the Greek coastguard are ill-treating refugees upon apprehension, detaining them arbitrarily on Greek soil without any registration and then deporting them back to Turkey, in breach of international law. Special units of the Greek coastguard are also accused of abandoning refugees in Turkish territorial waters without any consideration for their safety. According to Pro Asyl, the treatment of some refugees pushed back from the island of Farmakonisi could amount to torture.
“The Greeks tried to calm everyone down: ‘Don’t be afraid. Now you have arrived. You are safe.’ Then they took away our life jackets and threw them in the sea. They took away our engine and the fuel. Then they pushed us back. We stayed three hours on the sea until we could reach the Turkish coast”, stated a refugee from Somalia to Pro Asyl.
Pro Asyl accuses the Greek government, border police and coastguard of pushbacks, but also raises the question of wider European complicity. Pro Asyl stresses the pressure by some EU Member States on Greece to make great efforts to “seal” its borders more effectively and underlines that the EU substantially funds and supports the Greek asylum and migration systems, and also that Frontex, the EU border Agency, has been deployed to the country for years.
A Frontex Spokesperson told EU Observer that the Fundamental Rights Officer of the Agency has requested the Greek authorities to provide clarifications, information and a proper investigation on similar allegations sent to Frontex by individual migrants. The Agency Spokesperson said that, in all cases, the Greek authorities denied that such practices had taken place but that there were still few cases being investigated by the Greek authorities.
Michael Diedring, ECRE Secretary General, recalled that four months after the adoption of a new asylum package, which aims at contributing to the establishment of a Common European Asylum System, this is yet another “reality check”. “Still today at the EU’s external borders, fundamental rights of asylum seekers and refugees are brutally violated in an area where a Frontex-led joint operation is on-going”. Diedring argued that Frontex and the Commission as well as the Greek authorities need to “thoroughly and swiftly investigate these consistent allegations of serious human rights violations and take the appropriate measures in accordance with their respective mandates”.