The “2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,” prepared by the US State Department, was published on Tuesday. In the section on Greece, the situation of refugees arriving from Turkey is given a large place. It also reports on allegations of ill-treatment of refugees and forced return to Turkey.
The report states that the Greek government did not consistently respect the law. According to NGOs and international organizations, there are a number of asylum cases in which authorities denied petitions without respecting the 14-day quarantine for arrivals and without allowing the presence of a lawyer during interviews.
The US human rights report also mentions allegations that asylum seekers attempting to enter the country from Turkey were being repelled or detained without food or water, oftentimes ill-treated and physically abused. Many asylum seekers were reportedly forced onto rafts, which sea currents took back to Turkey.
“There were reports, however, of potential asylum seekers entering from Turkey being briefly detained and then forced to return to Turkey without being allowed to apply for asylum,” the report says.
The report states that the most serious incidents of violence against refugees are experienced in preremoval centers by law enforcement authorities and that extreme violence is experienced especially in pushback operations.
Nordic Motor previously reported that two refugees died in 2020 and eight in 2021 due to pushbacks according to official figures in the hands of Turkish authorities. However, in a tragic incident for which Turkish and Greek officials blamed each other, 19 migrants were found frozen to death near Turkey’s border with Greece in February.313615_GREECE-2021-HUMAN-RIGHTS-REPORT
Human rights defenders often criticize Greece for unregistering refugees and pushing them back to Turkey. They also claim the agreement that the European Council and Turkey reached aimed at stopping the flow of irregular migration via Turkey to Europe in 2016 made provisions for refugees arriving in the Greek islands but did not include any regulations for the land border. As a result Greek authorities committed serious human rights violations on the border given the fact that refugees seized on the land border are not included in the agreement.
No doubt the biggest victims of being pushed back to Turkey are Turkish citizens affiliated with the Gülen movement. Returnees from other countries can be admitted back to immigration centers or continue to live in Turkey again without supervision. However, members of the Gülen movement, a fierce critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, are mainly arrested and put behind bars, where they will stay for many years under difficult conditions.
According to the State Department’s report, quoting from the Greek press, the Greek Police’s Internal Affairs Division launched an investigation into allegations of violence by police officers against a group of migrants held at the preremoval center in Drama on January 30, 2021. Police officers allegedly stormed into the cells of detainees, beating them with batons. The violence was reportedly prompted by a protest by some of the inmates against an extension of their detention beyond 18 months. However, it is not mentioned if the police officers were prosecuted.
It is a fact that violence against refugees goes unpunished in pushback operations. Several nongovernmental organizations and international human rights organizations reiterated complaints of a lack of an independent government entity to investigate violence and other alleged abuses at the border by the Coast Guard and border patrol forces. The National Commission for Human Rights reported that in 2020 police investigated only two pushback abuse cases and that no cases were prosecuted and tried. The commission recommended the establishment of “an official independent mechanism to record and monitor informal pushback complaints.”
In an important note, Greek authorities designated Turkey as “safe third country” for asylum seekers originating from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Somalia on June 7, 2021. The decree states that because Turkey has a functioning asylum process and does not discriminate due to a person’s race, religion, ethnicity, political beliefs or participation in a certain social group, Turkey is a safe third country for asylum seekers. However, the report includes counter-claims filed by refugees claiming that Turkey is not a safe country.
The report also includes a controversial law passed by the Greek parliament last year. The law requires NGOs that conduct search and rescue operations in areas under Coast Guard jurisdiction to register, follow port authorities’ instructions and act only when the Coast Guard is unable to intervene. Persons convicted of violating the law are subject to between one and three years’ imprisonment, substantial fines, or both. Human rights activists claim the law is aimed at intimidating and preventing NGOs from witnessing and recording pushbacks of asylum seekers at sea.