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Greece’s Watchdog Finds No Evidence of Migrant Pushbacks

Greece migrant pushbacks
A boat carrying migrants and asylum seekers attempts to cross into Greek waters from Turkey. Credit: Greek Coast Guard

An investigation by Greece’s national transparency watchdog has found no basis for reports of migrant pushbacks by Greek authorities, it was announced on Tuesday.

The independent National Transparency Authority (NTA) announced that an in-depth investigation into claims that Hellenic Coast Guard authorities were involved in illegal pushbacks of asylum seekers had found no evidence to support the allegations.

A large number of European media outlets, including Spiegel, Lighthouse Reports, and the French daily Libération last year said that special units of the Hellenic Coast Guard were involved in turning migrants around at sea.

The Greek government has consistently denied the practice, known as pushbacks.

In a statement on Tuesday, the NTA said the allegations of what it called “informal forced returns” of asylum seekers by masked men “were not confirmed.”

“Upon completion of the examination process and the laboratory examination of the relevant material, no supporting evidence emerged,” the statement said.

The NTA investigation, which began last November, included visits to the eastern Aegean Sea islands, where migrant boats from Turkey arrive, and to the northeastern land border.

The Authority said it conducted interviews with Greek security services, local residents, and asylum-seekers. It said it also examined video and photos connected with the allegations with the assistance of the Greek police.

UNHCR calls on Greece to stop migrant pushbacks

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) in February 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,” which have led to multiple deaths. Grandi 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.

It is illegal under domestic, EU, and international law to turn back migrants seeking asylum at the border.

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