The European Union’s top migration official on Thursday urged Greece to stop “violent” deportations of migrants or risk losing funds.
After becoming one of the main destination points during the 2015 migration crisis, Athens has toughened its policy over the past year by increasing land and sea patrols, extending a border fence and building camps with much stricter security on its islands close to Turkey.
He has repeatedly denied accusations of so-called pushbacks of asylum seekers, saying he intercepts boats at sea to protect his own borders and those of the European Union.
“Protecting the EU’s external borders against illegal entries is an obligation. Violent and illegal deportations of migrants must stop now,” Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said after meeting Greek government ministers.
She indicated that Athens would set up a new system for safeguarding fundamental rights from September. She gave no details about the new system. Greek officials have yet to comment.
“Funding is linked to the proper application of EU fundamental rights,” she added.
Greece said last month it would not allow the illegal entry of migrants by land or sea, after an increase in attempts to enter via its Aegean islands and its land border with Turkey.
In an address to EU lawmakers on Monday, Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said the EU also needed to do more to ensure the boats did not cross into Turkey, with which Greece regularly trades barbs over migration and other issues.
“Greece would expect an even more active role from the EU institutions in calling on Turkey to respect its commitments,” he said. “According to a considerable number of testimonies from asylum seekers, the Turkish authorities actively encourage illegal departures.”
The influx of migrants from the Middle East and Africa in 2015 overwhelmed the social and security capacities of the bloc.
The number of arrivals had fallen sharply since then, but in recent weeks Greek authorities said they had blocked significant numbers of people from entering.
Around 47,000 people have arrived by sea in Italy, Greece, Spain, Cyprus and Malta so far this year, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said. Mediterranean countries expect more than 150,000 arrivals this year as food shortages caused by conflict in Ukraine threaten increased arrivals from Africa and the Middle East.
The Turkish Coastguard Command said last week that it had rescued 33,964 irregular migrants in 1,295 pushback incidents by the Greek Coastguard since 2020, calling on Greece and the European Union to act in accordance with the international law and human rights in order to end refoulements.
Turkey’s ombudsman institution report also mentions that Greece has pushed back nearly 42,000 asylum seekers since 2020. Noting that 98% of pushbacks involved torture and ill-treatment, the report states that 88 % of the 8,000 asylum seekers came to the Greek border. were beaten. He added that 97% of them suffered robberies, 5% sexual assaults and 8% electric shocks, while 49% were forced to strip and 16% drowned. Of the children among them, 68% have been exposed to or witnessed violence and abuse, the report points out.
Turkey and human rights groups have repeatedly condemned Greece’s illegal practice of pushing back irregular migrants, saying it violates humanitarian values and international law by endangering the lives of vulnerable migrants, including women and children.
In recent years, hundreds of thousands of people have made short but perilous journeys across the Aegean to reach northern and western Europe in search of a better life. Hundreds of people died at sea as many boats carrying refugees sank or capsized. The Turkish Coastguard Command rescued thousands more.
Turkey and Greece have been key transit points for migrants seeking to enter Europe, fleeing war and persecution to start new lives. Turkey has accused Greece of large-scale pushbacks, summary expulsions and denying migrants access to asylum procedures, in violation of international law. Ankara also accuses the EU of turning a blind eye to this flagrant violation of human rights.
Pushbacks are contrary to international agreements on the protection of refugees, which state that people should not be deported or returned to a country where their life and safety could be at risk because of their race, religion, nationality or membership in a social or political group.