Wednesday

20th Feb 2019

Greece to probe UN allegations of illegal returns

  • Asylum seekers were denied access to lawyers and then sent back to Turkey (Photo: Stephen Ryan / IFRC)

Greek authorities on Thursday (27 October) announced they are probing allegations of illegal returns of Syrian and non-Syrian asylum seekers to Turkey.

The allegations first emerged last week when the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said people had been denied access to lawyers and then sent to Turkey without proper access to asylum services.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The allegations, if proven true, would mark the first ever illegal returns under the scope of the EU's migrant swap deal with Turkey signed off in March.

“If these refugees were sent to Turkey without due consideration of their asylum claim, this is undoubtedly a case of refoulement," said Giorgos Kosmopoulos, Amnesty International’s researcher on migrant rights in Europe, in a statement.

Greece is under intense pressure to speed up returns under the EU-Turkey deal. Just under 600 people, the vast majority of whom were non-Syrian, have been deported to Turkey under the deal as of last month.

Returns to Turkey are only allowed in cases where asylum applications have been withdrawn, revoked by the applicant, or when legal proceedings and rights to appeal have been exhausted.

The Hellenic Police has denied the UN allegations, but Greek lawyers told this website that the events described by Greek authorities are not entirely correct.

"There is clear evidence for the one [Syrian] family that they didn't declare asylum at the airport like the police are saying," said a contact in Greece.

Administrative errors

Police say a Syrian couple with a two-month old child had requested asylum moments before boarding a flight back to Turkey on 20 October. The couple and child were allowed to remain in Greece, reportedly because of the age of the baby.

But Greek media Efimerida ton Syntakton reported on Wednesday that the couple had filed for asylum on 14 October.

Asked to explain the date discrepancy, Greek authorities cited administrative errors, reports the paper.

The admission poses broader questions over the fate and deportation circumstances of other Syrians returned to Turkey. They too had arrived on 14 October but were sent back a few days later after being detained at the Agia Marina police station on Leros island.

Six were adults including two parents who were travelling with their children aged between one and six. One of the parents had sent text messages to contacts back in Greece thinking he was being flown to Athens, reported Efimerida ton Syntakton. The Hellenic Police said they had not requested asylum.

All were among a group of some 91 people that landed on the island of Milos earlier this month.

"Among the group, were 10 Syrian nationals who were transferred to Kos and subsequently readmitted by plane to Adana, Turkey, without due consideration of their asylum claims," said UN spokesperson Adrian Edwards last week.

No 'incidents' on returns, says Frontex

The EU border agency Frontex said no-one on the flight back to Turkey had showed any resistance. The return flight was monitored by a Greek official. A doctor, an interpreter, and a Frontex officer were also on board.

"We had a debriefing afterwards and there were no reports that there were any situations that would involve somebody trying to say that they were asking for asylum," a Frontex spokesperson told this website.

But Syrians were not the only ones deported.

A second group of nationals from Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, and Pakistan were ferried from Lesbos island to Dikili in Turkey on 21 October. They too had arrived earlier in the month.

"Again we had a debriefing afterwards and there were no incidents," said the Frontex spokesperson.

But the UNHCR says they and their legal representatives had been denied access to the group. The EU commission says it is in contact with the Greek authorities over the UN reports.

Ioannis Mouzalas, the Greek deputy minister in charge of migration, is set to make a public statement about the allegations in the next few days.

EU washes hands of alleged migrant abuse

EU commission denied allegations of torture at Italian migrant hotspots, but said authorities can physically force people to be fingerprinted.

Eight EU states take migrants stranded on NGO boats

France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Romania have agreed to relocate the 49 migrants stuck on two NGO boats moored, for almost three weeks, off Malta's coast.

News in Brief

  1. British PM to batter against EU wall on Brexit
  2. Hungary and Slovakia break EU line on Jerusalem
  3. Germany and France to overhaul EU competition law
  4. Estonia kicks out Danske Bank over money laundering scandal
  5. May and Juncker meet over Brexit on Wednesday
  6. EU promises to open up advisory groups
  7. EU agrees to limit CO2 emissions by trucks
  8. Juncker under attack in Hungary government ad

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  2. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  3. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  5. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  7. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  8. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups

Latest News

  1. 'No evidence' ECB bond-buying helped euro economy
  2. Juncker: Orban should leave Europe's centre-right
  3. College of Europe alumni ask rector to cut Saudi ties
  4. EU says Hungary's anti-Juncker campaign is fake news
  5. Trump right for once: Europe should take back foreign fighters
  6. EU should clarify rules for plant burgers and lab meat
  7. Italian populists could be second biggest force in EU parliament
  8. Merkel defends Russia ties, ridicules Trump on cars

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us