Pushbacks and violence against refugees are de facto border policy in Greece: Amnesty International

(Photo by ARIS MESSINIS / AFP)

Greek border forces violently and illegally detain groups of refugees before summarily returning them to Turkey, human rights watchdog Amnesty International said in a report released on Wednesday.

According to the rights group, the practice of migrant pushbacks in Greece has become so bad that even people who have applied for asylum and have been in the country for some time are being picked up and deported.

The report, “Greece: Violence, lies and pushbacks,” documents how the Greek authorities are conducting illegal pushbacks on land and sea in contravention of their human rights obligations under EU and international law.

“It is clear that multiple arms of the Greek authorities are closely coordinating to brutally apprehend and detain people who are seeking safety in Greece, subjecting many to violence, then transferring them to the banks of the Evros River before summarily returning them to Turkey,” Adriana Tidona, migration researcher for Europe at Amnesty International, said. “Our research shows that violent pushbacks have become the de facto Greek border control policy in the Evros region. The level of organization needed to execute these returns, which affected around 1000 people in the incidents we documented, some numerous times and sometimes via unofficial detention sites, shows just how far Greece is going to illegally return people and cover it up.”

The vast majority of people Amnesty spoke to reported that they had experienced or witnessed violence from people they described as uniformed Greek officials as well as men in civilian clothing. This included blows with sticks or truncheons, kicks, punches, slaps and pushes, sometimes resulting in severe injuries. Men were often subjected to humiliating and aggressive naked searches, sometimes in the sight of women and children.

According to the report pushbacks are not only taking place in border areas. People are also being apprehended and detained far into the Greek mainland before being transported to the Evros region to be illegally returned to Turkey.

“All of the people we spoke to were pushed back from areas where Frontex has significant numbers of staff,” Tidona said. “The agency cannot therefore claim to be ignorant of the abuses that we, and many others, have documented. Frontex has the duty to prevent human rights violations, if they cannot do this effectively, they should withdraw or suspend operations in Greece.”

According to The Associated Press, Greece and Frontex strenuously deny such pushbacks.

Amnesty called on the European Commission to launch infringement proceedings against Greece “for its violation of EU asylum and fundamental rights law.”

It also appealed to Turkish authorities to “halt all practices forcing or pressuring individuals to return to Greece, including through the use of threats or violence and conduct prompt, independent, impartial, and effective investigations into all such allegations.”

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