Greece has been coercing migrants into pushing fellow asylum seekers back to Turkey at Evros, a joint investigation by international media outlets alleged this week.
A joint investigation by the Guardian, Lighthouse Reports, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, and ARD Report München alleges that several undocumented migrants who have recently crossed into Greece from Turkey through Evros River are used as boatmen to ferry other migrants back to Turkey.
Six migrants, Syrian and Moroccan, talked about how they participated in pushback operations on the Evros river under duress, in return for a police note permitting them a month’s stay in Greece.
Two of the men described themselves as “slaves.” They said they witnessed Greek police strip, rob, and assault asylum seekers before they were put back into overcrowded inflatable boats that the men were then ordered to transport back across the deep and fast-running river to the Turkish bank.
The investigation alleges that one of the men who was identified as an English speaker was offered a deal. Namely, he would work for the Greek police or face charges of human smuggling and be imprisoned. In return for a permit to remain in Greece for a month, he would remain locked up during the day and be released at night to push back other asylum seekers.
Greece seeks EU funding for Evros fence
Reports of pushbacks have multiplied since March 2020 when thousands of people, many herded there by Turkish authorities, arrived at Greek borders after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced he had opened “the gate” into Europe.
Greek authorities and its prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, have constantly rejected allegations, insisting that Greece has a “firm but fair” migration policy.
Recently, Athens asked the European Commission to use EU funds to extend the fence it has built on Evros at the border with Turkey to prevent illegal migrants from entering the country.
Greece has already built 40 kilometers (25 miles) of the fence near the Evros River crossing. Athens is looking for EU money for 80 more kilometers.
Greece is looking to prevent a recurrence of the events of 2020, when thousands of migrants and asylum seekers tried to storm the Greek border at Evros, demanding to pass through to the EU.
EU demands Greece stop migrant pushbacks
The European Union’s top migration official told Greece on Thursday to stop “violent” deportations of migrants or risk losing funds.
“Protecting EU external border from illegal entry is an obligation. Violent and illegal deportations of migrants must stop, now,” said Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson after meeting Greek government ministers.
She said that beginning in September, Athens would put a new system safeguarding fundamental rights in place. She gave no details about the new system. Greek officials have yet to comment.
“Funding is linked to EU fundamental rights being correctly applied,” she added.
The influx of migrants from the Middle East and Africa in 2015 overwhelmed the bloc’s social and security capacities.
The number of arrivals had fallen sharply since then, but in recent weeks, Greek authorities said they had stopped a significant number of people from entering.
Around 47,000 people have arrived by sea in Italy, Greece, Spain, Cyprus, and Malta so far this year, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said. The Mediterranean countries expect over 150,000 arrivals this year, as food shortages caused by the Ukraine conflict threaten increased arrivals from Africa and the Middle East.