Thousands of refugees in Greece have been subjected to illegal pushbacks and dehumanising conditions, as border forces push people to cross back over borders by land or sea to prevent asylum claims.
There are currently 50,000 refugees in Greece. It is a frequently used destination for migrants, many of whom are fleeing war and poverty on journeys through the Middle East and Turkey. But the conditions in Greek migrant camps are far from safe. Just last year thousands fled the Moria camp on Lesbos island following a fire, leaving 12,000 asylum seekers and refugees without shelter.
Prior to the fire in September, security in the camp had deteriorated. Refugees were subjected to overcrowded tents, with limited access to food, water, sanitation, and health care, despite the exponential risk to Covid-19.
The dehumanising conditions are just a fraction of what migrants have had to face in the past year. In May 2020, the Greek Coast Guard was accused of using rescue equipment to leave asylum seekers and migrants adrift in open water, close to the Turkish border- a process known as an illegal pushback.
The string of pushbacks arose after the 2016 EU-Turkey agreement, aimed at halting migration via Turkey to Europe by banning access to the Balkan route. Under the agreement, all new asylum seekers from Turkey arriving on the Greek islands would be deemed inadmissible and sent back across the border. Instead of providing a solution thousands of people were left trapped in Greece, living in shocking conditions.
This use of ‘pushbacks’ is becoming more common in the region, despite heavy denials by the Greek government. The Greek Immigration Minister, Notis Mitarakis, has rejected the claims: ‘Our country protects its borders with an absolute respect for international law.’ The Greek authorities have instead pointed blame towards Turkey saying it is their responsibility to “prevent non-sea-worthy boats from leaving Turkish shores.”
Violating the Right to Asylum
For thousands of people seeking asylum, pushbacks put them back in the face of danger by illegally returning them to a country where persecution and danger is a major possibility, by preventing them crossing a border or sea, without consideration into their individual circumstances. These illegal acts block those who are eligible from claiming asylum and violates rights set out in the Refugee Convention.
There have also been reports of brutal Greek border police pushbacks of migrants and Asylum seekers at the Evros River, a natural land border between Greece and Turkey.
Refugees in Diavata Camp in Thessaloniki have their asylum rights ignored. Source
Migrants from the Diavata Camp in Thessaloniki, who are claiming asylum, have had their rights ignored by being forced to cross the land border back into Turkey.
In both Greece and Croatia, 90 percent of all recorded pushback cases in 2020 detailed multiple accounts of abuse or degrading treatment and death. UNITED for Intercultural Action has reported 952 deaths between 1994 and 2010, since then it has increased. As the use of illegal force grows, a growing number of people are left stranded without food, water or aid.
Europe’s border security agency, Frontex, has allegedly been involved in several illegal pushbacks of asylum seekers trying to cross the Aegean Sea. The scale of the pushbacks was exposed in October by German magazine Der Spiegel and The New York Times, who accuse Frontex of being complicit in and aware of pushbacks at the EU’s border.
Ylva Johannson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs has urged Frontex to clarify the shocking allegations and demanded changes in the agency’s internal system, ‘We really need them to protect our borders and our values.’
The European Commission, which provides financial support to the Greek government, and funds the company Frontex has turned a blind eye to the injustices of people seeking protection when they reach Europe’s shores. The latest EU budget, which ends this year, assigned €34.9 billion to border and migration management.
Although prevalent in Greece due to its location along the Aegean Sea, the practice happens all over Europe, highlighting the failure of the European Union member states in their responsibility to protect migrants and their families.
The European Commission’s New ‘Pact’
EU refugee policies depend on adherence to international law. It requires all governments to share responsibility for asylum-seekers not ejecting unwanted individuals back over a border crossing. The new so-called ‘Pact on Asylum and Migration’ put forward by the European Commission attempts to appease countries into admitting asylum seekers by unifying the bloc.
The dehumanising conditions, most visual on the Greek islands sets the foreground of this new policy. Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, highlighted the responsibility which is needed to fix the irregularities, ‘It is now time to rise to the challenge to manage migration jointly, with the right balance between solidarity and responsibility.’
However, Moria’s replacement, Kara Tepe, dubbed Moria 2.0, sits on the edge of the island housing people in tents with no heating or running water as a direct result of EU policies.
The ‘pact’ aims at identifying and addressing migration issues collectively with ‘fairer, cleaner and faster border controls’. Drastic and rapid action is needed to address the illegalities on the frontline of many European borders.
[Header Image: Frontex]