Athens, 6 October 2020 —
Members of Greece’s parliament should urgently establish an inquiry into all allegations of unlawful returns of migrants to Turkey by law enforcement officers and others, 29 human rights and humanitarian aid organisations - including the International Rescue Committee - said in an open letter released today. These returns are carried out mainly through pushbacks and collective expulsions and are often accompanied by violence.
Parliament should exercise its oversight authority to investigate the allegations of these illegal acts by state agents and proxies on Greece’s sea and land borders with Turkey. The parliament’s inquiry should examine whether any illegal acts identified are part of a de facto government policy at odds with international, European, and Greek law.
Over the years, nongovernmental groups and media outlets have consistently reported the unlawful return, including through pushbacks, of groups and individuals from Greece to Turkey by Greek law enforcement officers or unidentified masked men, who appear to be working in tandem with border enforcement officials.
Reports from 2020 recorded multiple incidents in which Greek Coast Guard personnel, sometimes accompanied by armed masked men in dark clothing, unlawfully abandoned migrants – including those who had reached Greek territory. They abandoned the migrants at sea, on inflatable vessels without motors; towed migrant boats to Turkish waters; or intercepted, attacked, and disabled boats carrying migrants.
Nongovernmental organisations and the media have also reported persistent allegations that Greek border guards have engaged in collective expulsions and pushbacks of asylum seekers through the Evros land border with Turkey.
On June 10, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said it was “closely monitoring” the situation at the Greek border and reported receiving “persistent reports” of migrants being arbitrarily arrested in Greece and pushed back to Turkey. The IOM said that Greece should investigate.
On August 21, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it was “deeply concerned by an increasing number of credible reports indicating that men, women, and children may have been informally returned to Turkey immediately after reaching Greek soil or territorial waters in recent months,” and urged Greece to refrain from such practices and to seriously investigate these reports. The agency had released a statement making similar calls on June 12.
On July 6, during a debate at the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) on fundamental rights at the Greek border, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said those incidents should be investigated. In its new Pact on Migration and Asylum, presented on September 23, the European Commission recommended to member states to set up an independent monitoring mechanism, amid increased allegations of abuse at the EU’s external borders. But no such system has been instituted.
Confronted during a CNN interview with an August 14 New York Times article documenting pushbacks, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said: “It has not happened. We’ve been the victims of a significant misinformation campaign,” suggesting instead that Turkey was responsible.
Greek lawmakers should conduct a prompt, effective, transparent, and impartial investigation into allegations that Greek Coast Guard, Greek police, and Greek army personnel, sometimes in close coordination with uniformed masked men, have been involved in acts that not only violate the law but put the lives and safety of displaced people at risk.
Any officer found to have engaged in such illegal acts, as well as their commanding officers and officials who have command responsibility over such forces, should be subject to disciplinary and criminal sanctions, as applicable. The investigation should seek to establish the identity and relationship of the masked men and other unidentified officers to law enforcement and take steps to hold them to account. The investigation should cover events surfaced in 2019 and 2020, the groups said.
International Rescue Committee
Human Rights Watch
ARSIS – Association for the Social Support of Youth
Danish Refugee Council
Equal Rights Beyond Borders
Fenix – Humanitarian Legal Aid
Greek Council for Refugees
Greek Forum of Refugees
Greek Helsinki Monitor
Hellenic League for Human Rights
Legal Centre Lesvos
Medecins Du Monde – Greece
Mobile Info Team
Network for Children’s Rights
Refugee Legal Support
Refugee Rights Europe
Refugee Support Aegean
Terre des Hommes Hellas