The United Nation’s refugee agency (UNHCR) on Monday called for Greece to stop pushing back migrants who are attempting to seek asylum in the country.
Greek politicians denied the accusations that such pushbacks were taking place, saying that the UNHCR has been misled by Turkish propaganda. Turkey recently bolstered its claims that Greece was responsible for the deaths of migrants pushed back from its borders.
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi spoke out against “the increasing number of incidents of violence and serious human rights violations against refugees and migrants at various European borders,” with multiple deaths. Gandi also called out Greece directly.
“We are alarmed by recurrent and consistent reports coming from Greece’ island and sea borders with Turkey, where UNHCR has recorded almost 540 reported incidents of informal returns by Greece since the beginning of 2020,” he added.
Gandi referenced the deaths of three people since September 2021 that allegedly occurred due to pushbacks at Greece’s sea borders. Gandi said that some migrants were “left adrift in life rafts or sometimes even forced directly into the water, showing a callous lack of regard for human life.
“Equally horrific practices are frequently reported at land borders, with consistent testimonies of people being stripped and brutally pushed back in harsh weather conditions.”
Earlier this month, Turkey accused Athens of causing at least 12 refugees to freeze to death due to pushbacks.
Turkey’s interior minister, Suleyman Solyu, said that Greek guards were responsible for pushing the refugees away from the border into Turkey, where they died. The dead were part of a group of 22 people.
Greece’s migration minister, Notis Mitarachi, denied Solyu’s allegations that Greek frontier units forcibly expelled the migrants.
“The death of 12 migrants at the Turkish border near Ipsala is a tragedy. But the truth behind this incident bears no resemblance to the false propaganda pushed out by my counterpart,” he said in a statement.
“These specific migrants never made it to the border. Any suggestion they did, or indeed were pushed back into Turkey, is utter nonsense.”
Greece says that migrant pushbacks are “baseless claims”
Mitarakis insisted that Turkey should work on preventing such “dangerous journeys,” instead of wasting time with “baseless claims.” Mitirakis referenced a deal the EU made with Turkey to stop such migrant flows. “Turkey should assume its responsibilities if we want to prevent such tragedies from occurring again,” he added.
Tensions between Turkey and Greece have deepened since 2020 when Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told asylum seekers to make their way to Europe through Greece.
It is illegal under domestic, EU, and international law to deny migrants seeking asylum at the border. Despite this, numerous organizations have assembled proof that expulsions are a regular occurrence at the border.