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Alleged pushbacks at Greek border are persistent and systematic

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Since 2017, there has been an increase in reported pushbacks ranging in the hundreds to the thousands. Despite increased international pressure and outrage, alleged pushbacks continue to persist. They are systematic, and those who speak out against them are criminalised. The latest issue of the Lesbos Bulletin by the Greek Council for Refugees and Oxfam looks at this practice and includes a pushback testimony.

K, a young political refugee, fled her home country to avoid persecution and torture for expressing her political views. In her own words: “We fled in order not to be [unjustly] imprisoned; in order to not be wronged and tortured. I didn’t want to pass my youth in prison because I was unfairly convicted.”

K. said the Greek authorities arrested her, despite her asking for asylum and held her, and other people entering Greece, in an old building for nearly a day in the cold without food or water, with ‘nothing’. While waiting, she realised they would be sent back. She commented on how organised and systematic it was: “It’s not the first time. They are doing it [in a] very organized [manner].”

This testimony is an example of the Greek authorities' systematic approach to pushbacks, which repeats itself in dozen others like it. The Greek Ombudsman confirmed this, noting the ‘constantly repeating patterns’ of pushbacks, both at Greece’s land border in Evros and in the Aegean islands. Investigations into alleged pushbacks are not carried out, even those with hard evidence which show people contacting the Greek authorities before being pushed back to Turkey.

K. reported that the Greek authorities put her in a boat, along with 150 other people from countries like Syria and Afghanistan and left them to be picked up by the Turkish authorities or to perish. This is despite international, European and Greek law stating that people must be offered a fair asylum process, and should never be returned to another country without a personal examination of their claim.

Raphael Shilhav, Oxfam EU migration expert:

“Despite mounting national and international pressure, Greece is still continuing, business as usual, with pushbacks and the EU stands idly by. The EU must make sure all its members have mechanisms in place tasked with the responsibility of investigating pushbacks. These mechanisms must be independent, legally mandated to examine evidence, well-funded and have teeth, to ensure full accountability for violations of rights.”

Vasilis Papastergiou, legal expert from the Greek Council for Refugees:

“Recent reports by national and international bodies shine a light on what we already knew from our work in Greece. These reports are always welcomed, but they also show the need for an independent investigative authority which can monitor the situation daily.”

Notes to editors

  • This edition of the Lesbos bulletin, an update on the situation in the EU ‘hotspot’ refugee camps in Greece also provides an update on living conditions in Moria 2.0, which are as dire as ever, raises the alarm on children not being in school and the sudden end to cash allowances pushing more people into poverty.

  • Spokespeople are available in Athens and Lesbos (English, Greek) and in Brussels (English). 

  • K. and her lawyer are available for interview.    

  • The practice of pushbacks of asylum seekers on the Greek mainland and the islands is against international refugee law (the Geneva Convention and the Convention against Torture) as it violates the principle of non-refoulement.

  • Recently, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Felipe González Morales, published a new report on pushbacks. It found that the practice of “pushbacks” is widespread and exists along most migration routes.

Contact information

Jade Tenwick | Brussels | jade.tenwick@oxfam.org | mobile +32 473 56 22 60  

Ira Papadopoulou | Athens | i.papadopoulou@gcr.gr |+30 210 3800990 (ext. 102)