The EU executive called on Wednesday for an investigation into alleged migrant pushbacks by Greece, which Athens is flatly denying.
The announcement follows reports in the German media outlets Der Spiegel and ARD, according to which some of these operations reportedly turned violent as Greek special forces sometimes concealed their identities when pushing migrants back into the Aegean Sea.
Romania and Croatia are also to be investigated for the practice.
“Some of these reports are shocking,” said EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, adding she expects a thorough investigation into these incidents. These reports need to be investigated, she said and added that there seems to indications of orchestrated violence in Europe’s external borders.”
Johansson’s statement at 9’30” in the following video:
In addition, a Dutch nonprofit journalistic organization called Lighthouse Reports also published a series of videos and reports documenting abuse of asylum-seekers on Twitter.
In Greece, open source videos show masked men engaging in pushbacks on the high seas. Current & former senior Greek coast guard officers identified the masked men as members of elite Greek coast guard units: the Underwater Operations (MYA) and Special Operations (KEA) and (OEA). pic.twitter.com/J2cVd4cytO
— Lighthouse Reports (@LHreports) October 6, 2021
Greece denies allegations of migrant pushbacks
Greece on Thursday denied allegations that it was carrying out migrant pushbacks on its borders and said it was acting within the framework of international law.
“We strongly deny these allegations. Greek borders are EU borders and we operate within international and European law to protect them,” Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis said in a statement.
Mitarakis said Europe remained the target of criminal gangs exploiting people who want to enter the EU illegally, adding: “We make no apology for our continued focus on breaking up these human trafficking operations, and protecting Europe’s border.”
Europe’s Rights body also calls on Greece to stop pushbacks
Last May, Europe’s leading human rights body had also urged Greece to end migrant pushbacks on its borders.
In a letter to Greek ministers dated May 3, the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner said there had been “numerous credible allegations” since at least 2017 of asylum seekers illegally returned to Turkey or left adrift at sea but that Athens had simply dismissed them.
The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, urged the Greek authorities to put an end to pushback operations at both the land and sea borders with Turkey, and to ensure that independent and effective investigations are carried out into all allegations of pushbacks and of ill-treatment by members of security forces in the context of such operations.
These practices, which have been widely reported and documented for several years, prevent the persons who are returned at the border without individual identification or procedure from putting forward reasons why such a return would violate their rights, and from applying for protection, Mijatović says.
“In such cases, member states cannot satisfy themselves that they are not sending individuals back in violation of, for example, Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the refoulement prohibition in the UN Refugee Convention”, underlines the Commissioner.