Greece uses other migrants to deport asylum seekers

(Athens) – Greek security forces employ third-country nationals, men who appear to be of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent, to push back asylum seekers at the land border between Greece and Turkey, said Human Rights Watch in a report released today.

The 29-page report ‘Their Faces Were Covered: Greece’s Use of Migrants as Police Auxiliaries in Pushbacks’, revealed that Greek police are detaining asylum seekers at the land border between Greece and Turkey on the Evros River, in many cases depriving them of most of their clothing and stealing their money, phones and other possessions. They then hand the migrants over to masked men, who force them into small boats, take them to the middle of the Evros River and force them into the freezing water, causing them to wade to the shore on the Turkish side. None are apparently duly registered in Greece or authorized to apply for asylum.

“It is undeniable that the Greek government is responsible for unlawful pushbacks at its borders, and the use of proxies to carry out these unlawful acts does not relieve it of all responsibility,” said Bill Frelick, director of refugee rights and migrants to Human Rights. Watch. “The European Commission should urgently open legal proceedings and hold the Greek government accountable for breaching EU laws banning collective expulsions.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 26 Afghan migrants and asylum seekers, 23 of whom were deported from Greece to Turkey across the Evros River between September 2021 and February 2022. The 23 men, 2 women and a boy said they were detained by men they believed to be the Greek authorities, usually no more than 24 hours with little or no food or drinking water, and sent back to Turkey. Both the men and the boy provided first-hand accounts from victims or witnesses of Greek policemen or men they believed to be Greek policemen beating or otherwise abusing them.

Sixteen of those interviewed said the boats taking them back to Turkey were piloted by men who spoke Arabic or South Asian languages ​​common among migrants. They said most of these men wore black or commando-style uniforms and used balaclavas to cover their faces. Three interviewees were able to speak with the men who escorted the boats. The boat pilots told them that they were also migrants employed by the Greek police with the promise of receiving documents allowing them to continue their journey.

A 28-year-old former Afghan army commander, who was deported to Turkey in late December, said he had a conversation in Pashto with the Pakistani who was carrying the boat that took him back to Turkey: “The driver of the boat said: ‘We are… here to do this job for three months and then they give us… a document. With that we can move freely inside Greece and then we can get a ticket to… another country.

An 18-year-old Afghan boy described his experience after Greek police transported him from the detention center to the river: “At the border there were other people waiting for us.… According to their language, we could recognize that they were Pakistani and Arab. These men took our money and beat us. They beat me with sticks. They dropped us off in the middle of the river. The water was at my chest, and we waded the rest of the way [to Turkey].”

Pushbacks violate several human rights standards, including the prohibition of collective expulsions under the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to due process in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the right to seek asylum under EU asylum law and the EU Human Rights Charter. fundamental rights and the principle of non-refoulement under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

The Greek government regularly denies any involvement in the pushbacks, calling such claims “fake news” or “Turkish propaganda” and cracking down, including with the threat of criminal penalties, on those who report such incidents. On March 29, the Independent Greek Transparency Authority commissioned by the government to investigate pushbacks “found no basis for reports that the Greek authorities had unlawfully turned back asylum seekers entering the country from the Turkey”.

Major General Dimitrios Mallios, head of the foreigners and border protection branch at the Hellenic Police Headquarters, denied Human Rights Watch’s allegations. He said that “the police services and their personnel will continue to operate in a continuous, professional, legal and expeditious manner, taking all necessary measures to manage refugee/migration flows effectively, in a way that preserves a on the one hand the rights of foreigners and on the other hand the protection of citizens, particularly in frontline border regions”.

Greece should immediately end all pushbacks from Greek territory and stop using third-country nationals for collective expulsions, Human Rights Watch said. The European Commission, which provides financial support to the Greek government for migration control, should demand that Greece end all summary returns and collective expulsions of asylum seekers to Turkey, put pressure on the authorities to establish an independent and effective border monitoring mechanism that would investigate allegations of border violence and ensure that none of its funding contributes to violations of human rights and the laws of the EU. The European Commission is also expected to open legal proceedings against Greece for violating EU laws banning collective expulsions.

Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, which is under increased scrutiny for complicity in the pushbacks of migrants in Greece, is expected to trigger Article 46 of its rules, under which the he agency has a duty to suspend or terminate operations in the event of serious abuses, if no concrete improvement is made by Greece to end such abuses within three months.

On March 1, the Greek Minister for Migration, Notis Mitarachi, declared before the Hellenic Parliament that the Ukrainians were the “true refugees”, implying that those on the Greek-Turkish border are not.

“At a time when Greece is welcoming Ukrainians as ‘real refugees’, it is carrying out cruel pushbacks against Afghans and others fleeing war and similar violence,” Frelick said. “The double standard mocks the so-called shared European values ​​of equality, rule of law and human dignity.”