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25th Feb 2024

Up to Greece to investigate 'black site', EU says

  • Ursula von der Leyen (c) returns to Greece on Thursday (Photo: European Union)

The European Commission will not look into revelations Greece was operating a black site for asylum seekers.

It also will not pass any immediate judgement on a Greek presidential decree to suspend asylum claims for a month and push people back across the Turkish border.

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Instead, it told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday (11 March) its strategy was to discuss the issues with Greek authorities.

"I cannot comment on why the commission has not done this or that on this particular situation," said Adalbert Jahnz, a European Commission spokesperson, when pressed.

Cowardly and disingenuous

But that position has riled human rights defenders.

Among them was the Brussels-based European Council on Refugees and Exiles (Ecre), an NGO.

"It is cowardly and disingenuous of the commission to say it cannot comment," Ecre's secretary-general Catherine Woollard told this website in an email.

She said the commission was not being asked to assume the role of a court, but was instead being asked to fulfil its role as guardian of the EU treaties.

"The commission's response reflects the political choices of its leadership," she added, noting that the commission could take or threaten to take actions.

These include infringement procedures, Article 7 procedures, and measures available on the Common European Asylum System, she pointed out.

"Finally, what is concerning is not only the absence of condemnation but also the apparent approval and risk of complicity in Greece's response," she added.

Investigate yourself

As for the Greek black site, the European Commission said it was up to the Greek authorities to investigate themselves when it comes to the New York Times revelations.

"It is for the national authorities to investigate and to follow up," said the commission spokesperson.

The media expose says Greece has been shuffling people, including women and children, into a centre near a Greek border town with Turkey.

They are reportedly held without any possibility to claim asylum and then sent back to Turkey.

The commission says member states have to respect fundamental rights and European law when it comes to asylum but would not comment specifically on the black site revelation.

Instead, it appeared to dither on Greek violations more than a week after Turkey opened its borders to migrants and asylum seekers.

Mixed messages

Meanwhile, the EU presidency under Croatia says the situation on the Greek and Bulgarian land border with Turkey is now under control.

"There is no increase in the number of illegal border crossings," Croatia's foreign affairs minister Nikolina Brnjac told MEPs on Tuesday.

For its part, the European Commission still maintained the situation on the Greek Turkey border is unprecedented and exceptional.

"We are faced with an urgent and serious situation at our external borders," home affairs commissioner Vlya Johansson told MEPs immediately after Brnjac's speech.

Pressed on the issue of violations, Eric Mamer, the European Commission's chief spokesperson, cited procedures.

"There are many issues of European law where one of the steps in a process to solve an issue is initial contact with the national authorities," he said.

That initial contact will not take place until Thursday, more than a week after Greece announced its presidential decree.

Johansson is set to address the reported violations in Athens. Asked if she also intends to visit the Greek black site, Mamer did not respond.

Commission silent on Greece suspending asylum claims

Greece is now "Europe's shield" said the European Commission, as it shores up border patrols on the Turkish border. But when it comes to Greece suspending asylum claims, the same institution was unable to comment.

EU offers Greek island migrants €2,000 to go home

Some 5,000 people stuck on the Greek islands will each be offered €2,000 to go home. The scheme is likely to take several weeks before officially launched and will be valid for one month.

EU commission keeps asylum report on Greece secret

On 4 March, the European Commission's legal service handed president Ursula von der Leyen an analysis of the Greek government's controversial decision to temporarily freeze asylum applications. The commission will not now release the document.

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