Thursday

26th Nov 2020

EU mulls new system to check illegal pushbacks of migrants

  • A boat with migrants intercepted by the Turkish Coast Guard is suspected of having been pushed back by the Greeks (Photo: Republic of Turkey)

The European Commission says it may now propose a new system to monitor illegal pushbacks of migrants - amid mounting evidence of abuse by both Croatia and Greece.

Speaking to MEPs on Monday (6 July), the European Commissioner for home affairs Ylva Johansson said more needs to be done to ensure EU states respect fundamental rights while guarding borders.

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"It is time to consider if we also need to put in place a new mechanism to monitor and verify reports of pushbacks," she said.

No specifics were given.

The announcement marks a development, since the commission has for weeks refused to denounce alleged violations along the borders, in addition to a month-long suspension of asylum seeker rights in Greece.

It also comes amid mounting evidence of push backs of people in the Aegean sea and along the Croat border by masked thugs.

The shooting deaths of several young men along the Greek-Turkish border in March have also roused sharp criticism amid dramatic video footage of bloodied bodies being carried away.

Investigations by a number of media outlets also show people in boats being tugged out to sea towards Turkey and set adrift by what appears to be the Greek Coast Guard.

One such incident was recorded on video on 4 June.

Greek authorities have rejected all the allegations, describing them as a mix of fake news and Turkish propaganda.

Another incident of push backs was revealed by a Danish patrol boat, who earlier this year had refused an order they said was given to them by the Greek authorities.

Frontex, the EU border agency, described that incident as a "misunderstanding."

But MEPs in European Parliament's civil liberties committee demanded answers.

On Monday, they held a hearing on the allegations linked to the push backs and the shootings.

Three Greek ministers were invited but failed to address the concerns and declined to respond to some questions.

Among them was one from Ruiz Devesa, a Spanish socialist MEP.

"In the Der Spiegel we read of cases where Greek masked coast guards were firing at sea and leaving migrants to their fate. What can be done to avoid this situation from ever re-occuring again?" he had asked Greece's minister of migration and asylum Notis Mitarachi.

But Mitarachi, after a short briefing on asylum figures in Greece, had by then left the hearing.

The question was then asked again to Giorgos Koumoutsakos, a Greek official who had stood in for Mitarachi.

He skirted the question altogether.

Michalis Chrisochoidis, Greece's minister of citizen protection, earlier in the hearing refuted any suggestion that Greek authorities may have shot dead a Syrian.

"I heard about sharp shooters. I mean there are no sharp shooters in the Greek police. We did not use guns, it was only police measures," he said.

"If there is any allegation, please send it to us, we will look into it," he added.

The Syrian shot dead was a young man from Aleppo named Muhammad al Arab.

He was killed on 2 March, one day before European Commission president Von Der Leyen went to the region and described Greece as a "shield" for the whole of Europe.

Forensic Architecture, a London-based research agency, said al Arab had been killed by a group of armed Greek soldiers.

The issue has since been elevated by the German EU presidency ahead of a gathering of EU interior ministers on Tuesday.

"This is a fundamental violation of human rights and human dignity," Horst Seehofer, Germany's interior minister, told reporters of the alleged push backs.

Tuesday's ministerial meeting addressed another major problem dealing with search and rescues at sea, where only a handful of EU states agree to take in people, and then only after lengthy delays.

One such boat, a Lebanese animal cargo ship, is currently moored off the Maltese coast with some 52 rescued migrants.

"It is quite embarrassing that a community like the European Union is unable to respond to an issue of such huge dimensions," said Seehofer.

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