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The New Arab Staff

Greece forcibly returned 9,000 refugees in ten months: report

Greece has come under fire for its anti-refugee policies [Getty]

Date of publication: 13 February, 2021

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Many of the refugees were fleeing war-ravaged countries like Afghanistan and Syria.
Greek authorities have forcibly expelled some 9,000 migrants to Turkey in 10 months, a report by the refugee monitor Marie Liberum found.

The Berlin-based organisation documented that from March to December alone, the asylum seekers and refugees were violently pushed back to Turkey and deprived of their right to asylum. There were on average 900 cases of forced deportations a day.

Many of the refugees were fleeing war-ravaged countries like Afghanistan and Syria. 

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) and NATO ships were found to be assisting the Greek coastguard with the systematic expulsions of people, the report found.

They also shot at and destroyed inflatable boats while refugees, including children, were on them.

"One of them shot up in the air, [...] and then hit our boat [with a stick]," said one refugee. "Then he demanded that the boat driver stops the engine. Everyone started begging and pleading and begging for forgiveness.

"At the same time, they were shooting at the sea. We were screaming, we were begging. Then one of them came into our boat, he stopped the engine.  He took the engine and threw it into the sea."

Another refugee spoke of losing a friend.

"He didn't want to come with us when we crossed the sea, but when he heard that almost all of us made it, he tried to reach Samos. They arrived at the coast and were put on a bus, but they were not taken to a camp," the refugee said.

"Instead, they were taken back to the coast, put in a mini-inflatable boat, like a child's toy, and then [the Greek coastguard] took them out to sea and left them there. After that, the boat sank and he drowned."

Read more: How Greece is silencing NGOs to hide abuses at refugee camps

"These pushbacks are not isolated or extreme instances of European deterrence, but rather the current and everyday 'modus operandi' at the EU's external border," said Paul Hanewinkel, one of the report’s authors.

"Pushbacks can only be understood as part of an inhumane and deadly policy of deterrence that is visible far beyond the borders of the Aegean Sea.

"We live in a Europe where people are abandoned at sea in tiny life rafts, instead of legally accepting people seeking protection."

The report highlighted that forced expulsions of asylum seekers is a clear violation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and international law.

According to the Geneva Convention on Refugees, everyone has the right to seek international protection, the report stated.

The Greek coastguard has faced criticisms for its pushbacks of asylum seekers seeking a safe haven, including in March 2020 when it was filmed firing bullets at the sea near migrant boats to scare them away.

At the beginning of 2020, the Greek Minister of Immigration and Asylum Notis Mitraki acknowledged the policy, saying it had reduced the arrival of migrants by 80%.

"Pushbacks are human rights crimes that are organized primarily by Greek authorities but form a common and inhumane European strategy," said Hanewinkel.

"For these brutal pushbacks to stop, we call for independent control instances, the clarification of all previous cases and the abolition of Frontex, an agency which deliberately disregards the rights of refugees.

"We demand that all authorities involved in pushbacks are held accountable on a national and international level."

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