Greece’s Pushback Problem:
Evidence Mounts as Denials Persist
Photo: Demonstration against the Pushbacks on August 19, 2022. Athens, Syntagma Square.
By Siyavash Shahabi
Greece has been facing accusations of illegal pushbacks of migrants and asylum seekers for several years. However, the country’s Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi, recently denied that there is any truth to these claims. Despite this denial, evidence of illegal pushbacks has continued to surface in increasing numbers in 2022.
Pushbacks refer to the practice of forcibly returning migrants and asylum seekers to a country they have fled or transited through, without giving them an opportunity to apply for asylum or other forms of protection. This is considered a violation of international law, as it can put individuals at risk of persecution, torture or other serious human rights violations.
Aegean Boat Report has documented and published hundreds of pushback cases, which has been possible because after arriving, people arriving have contacted us, providing important documentation in form of pictures, videos and location data.
Aegean Boat Report monitors and reports on issues related to people movement in the Aegean Sea, particularly actual incidents of people crossing the Sea and governments’ responses to them.
The resent report of the ABR mentioning that almost 10.000 people, half of everyone who managed to reach the Greek Aegean islands in 2022, were arrested, robbed, threatened, beaten and forcibly removed by Greek police and coast guard, with the help of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency FRONTEX, in the name of border management and protection.
The European Court of Human Rights has received several complaints regarding pushbacks by Greece, and has issued multiple judgments finding Greece guilty of violating the prohibition of collective expulsions, the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to an effective remedy.
However, the Greek government has consistently denied these allegations, claiming that it is fulfilling its obligations to protect its borders and combat illegal migration. Despite these denials, the evidence of illegal pushbacks by Greece continues to mount, drawing international condemnation and calls for action to protect the rights of migrants and asylum seekers.
The organization Legal Center Lesvos has added to this evidence by publishing a press release and video that depict events that occurred in October 2020. According to the case being examined by the European Court, 200 people were refloated using liferafts in the area south of Crete and near the coast of Rhodes and Turkey.
The video, which was produced with the help of members of the omniatv team, includes interviews with survivors and analysis of available audio-visual material held by the legal aid team. The press release states that the Greek state continues to deny that these incidents occurred, following a pattern of denying similar complaints involving border and security forces in the Aegean and Evros regions.
This news comes at a time when Greece is taking steps to further strengthen its borders, including promises by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to extend a fence on the Evros border and announcements for the recruitment of new border guards. Despite these efforts, the practice of pushbacks appears to be continuing.
The publication of this video and press release by the Legal Center Lesvos adds to the growing body of evidence that suggests that Greece is not only engaging in illegal pushbacks, but also denying that they are occurring. The international community should pay attention to this issue and take action to ensure that the rights of migrants and asylum seekers are protected.
In April 2022, the Greek ombudsman released an interim report as part of an investigation launched in 2017, criticizing authorities for failing to adequately respond to multiple allegations of pushbacks at the Greek-Turkish land border. In May, Council of Europe (CoE) Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović urged authorities to end pushbacks at both the land and sea borders with Turkey, and to ensure independent and effective investigations. In July, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Yilva Johansson warned Greece to end pushbacks, describing them as “violations of our fundamental European values.”
HRW mentioned on its annual report of 2022 that Greece hosts large numbers of asylum seekers while failing to protect their rights, including by pushing new arrivals back to Turkey.