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Greece: A new report by Amnesty International Condemning Systematic Pushbacks

A report published by the human rights group condemns Greece for violently and illegally detaining refugees and migrants before pushing them back to Turkish territory, in contravention of human rights obligations under international and European Union law. Amnesty International has been the latest humanitarian organization to release a report, on June 23, about what it says is "new evidence of torture, ill-treatment and illegal pushbacks of refugees and migrants to Turkey by the Greek authorities.”

t also documents experiences of violence at the Turkish side of the border as people on the move are being used as wagers in a political game between the two countries. 

A new report called Greece: Violence, lies and pushbacks revealed 21 pushback incidents that affected about 1,000 people, as well as other abuses occurring between June and December 2020. Among the people Amnesty spoke to were a recognized refugee and a registered asylum seeker who had been living in mainland Greece for almost a year, but who were apprehended and pushed back by Greek authorities. Amnesty International has joined organizations like Human Rights Watch (HRW) to call on both Greek border forces and the EU border control agency Frontex to investigate and address "abuse against migrants at external borders." On June 23, HRW also released a report on external EU borders in Greece, Croatia, and Hungary, saying that Frontex needed to be more "accountable and transparent."

Greek forces not only push back refugees in border areas, but also detain them far inside the mainland before returning them to the Evros region, which is illegal. Adding to compelling evidence by international human rights bodies, civil society, and journalists, the new report that primarily focuses on incidents in the Evros region substantiates that pushbacks have become Greece’s de facto policy of border management. The Amnesty’s Report also draws attention to the regularity and resemblance of violation patterns. Most of the interviewees have been subjected or witnessed violence enacted by both uniformed Greek officials and men in civilian clothing. Men were often subjected to humiliating and violent naked searches, at times when women and children were present. Some of the documented incidents amounted to torture, due to their severity and humiliating or punitive intent. The report concludes: “The EU and its member states should take urgent, effective measures to ensure that Greece stops violating the rights of refugees and migrants at its borders. This should include the launch of infringement proceedings against Greece and the creation of an effective, independent monitoring mechanism for violations of human rights at the borders.” In a joint statement from 18 June, the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) called on Greek authorities to end and promptly investigate pushbacks, referring to 147 cases documented by GHM involving more than 7,000 individuals.
In regards to the testimonies of people interviewed on their treatment at the Turkish border, the narratives were mixed. Some pointed out that after being pushed back from Greece, Turkish authorities provided assistance. Other testimonies, to the contrary, gave account of severe abuse from Turkish border guards. According to the report, this provides “an alarming insight into continued political tensions between Turkish and Greek border authorities in the Evros region. People continue to be used as pawns in a political game, at times being “ping-ponged” back and forth across the river, unnecessarily putting the lives of children and adults at risk.” 

The report was published a day before EU leaders met in Brussels to discuss, among other things, the migration situation along various routes and relations with Turkey. Proposals for EU funds for Turkey that were leaked ahead of the summit call for €3bn from the EU budget to fund refugee aid and migration management in Turkey, with an unspecified part of the money earmarked for border control. Speaking to the Guardian, ECRE director Catherine Woollard expressed her concerns that any funding for border control could prevent people from reaching safety and leaving Syria: “There is a high risk that EU funds are used to support activities that may lead to refoulement [forcible return] or other violations, if a chunk of the money is earmarked for border management and border control,” adding that support should focus instead on improving the Turkish asylum system and the long-term economic and social rights of refugees in Turkey, the country hosting the highest number of refugees globally. Furthermore, she emphasized that “Turkey in a way is able to ask for whatever it wants from the EU and is also able to act in any way that it wants because of the dependency created by the EU-Turkey deal.”

In mid-June, a Dutch journalist reporting on the inhumane conditions that people on the move face in Greece and her Afghan translator, an asylum seeker, were arrested on the Greek island of Hydra because the journalist had provided shelter to the young man. Reportedly, the journalist has to appear in court in October and faces a fine or imprisonment. "The arrest […] shows how grim the climate is in Greece," MEP Tineke Strik (Greens, NL) commented the incident and pleaded with the Greek authorities to release the journalist. "People who want to provide humanitarian aid to asylum seekers are being dealt with harshly, in this way the Greeks want to set a terrifying example."


Amnesty International: https://www.amnesty.eu/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Greece_Violence.Lies_.Pushbacks_AI-Report-22062021.pdf
Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jun/23/eu-proposal-to-fund-turkey-border-control-could-lead-to-syrian-refugees-forced-return
AIDA Country Report: Greece, June 2021: https://asylumineurope.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/AIDA-GR_2020update.pdf
ECRE, ASYLUM IN GREECE: A SITUATION BEYOND JUDICIAL CONTROL?, June 2021: https://www.ecre.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/ECRE-Legal-Note-9-on-Asylum-in-Greece-A-Situation-Beyond-Judicial-Control-June-2021.pdf

Alicja Szczutowska
NIEM’s National Coalition Officer
The Migration Policy Programme
Institute of Public Affairs