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10th Apr 2021

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Revealed: Official Greek order to illegally pushback 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)

New evidence of Greek state-sanctioned illegal pushbacks of migrants has emerged in documents obtained by EUobserver.

A redacted chain email from the EU's border agency, Frontex, made available following a freedom of information request, clearly shows that the Hellenic Coast Guard (HCG) received orders to push migrants back into Turkish territorial waters.

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  • Redacted Frontex email showing the order was given (Photo: EUobserver)

Such pushbacks are illegal under international law given that people have the right to enter Greece to claim asylum.

Whether they then receive asylum or not is up to well-established asylum procedures.

The email, dated 6 March 2020, describes an incident where the Danish coast guard refused orders to force migrants and asylum seekers on a small boat near the Greek island coastline back to Turkey.

Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri has repeatedly described that incident as a "misunderstanding", telling the European Parliament that it was an isolated incident.

But the nine-page Frontex email chain casts that assessment into doubt, given it was direct order.

The incriminating line in the emails says that the Hellenic Coast Guard had in fact taken orders to transport migrants on a rubber boat back to Turkish waters.

"HCG Liaison Officer –Technical Equipment (LO-TE) informed a crew about an order from his authority to transfer the migrants back to the rubber boat and escort / transport them into TUR territorial waters (TTW)," states the email.

It is the first time that such a comment has been made in an official capacity. It is also a revelation that puts Greek government official denials into even greater doubt.

The email notes that the Danes had forwarded that order onto their own superiors, who had it cancelled.

"A new order was given to bring the migrants to Kos Harbour," states the email, noting no further discussions were held about the incident.

For its part, Frontex in an emailed statement said the contents of the released documents demonstrates that the agency "is fully committed to upholding the highest standards of border control and the respect of fundamental rights within our operations."

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

When pressed over the issue, Greek minister of citizen protection, Michalis Chrisochoidis told MEPs last July that Athens consistently applies the rules of international law.

"Greece has a progressive democratic government that safeguards human dignity and applies faithfully international law concerning human rights and the Geneva Convention, so this is simply not true," he said of the alleged pushbacks.

The comment was made despite the Frontex emails showing the Greek authorities were issuing orders for the illegal pushbacks, which is in fact a violation of international human rights laws it claims to uphold.

EU mulls new system to check illegal pushbacks of migrants

The European Commission says it may create a new system to monitor push backs by EU states. The announcement follows weeks of dithering by the commission, which has refrained from condemning abuse by Greek and Croat authorities, despite mounting evidence.

Confusion over Frontex's Greek pushback investigation

In a quick U-turn, EU border agency Frontex says it has now launched an inquiry into allegations it may have blocked potential asylum seekers from reaching the Greek coast, in so-called 'pushbacks'. What form that inquiry will take is unclear.

Frontex refuses to investigate pushbacks, despite EU demand

The European Commission says Frontex, the EU's border agency, has an obligation to investigate allegations that its vessels participated in illegal pushbacks of migrants off the Greek coast. Asked if it would, Frontex said it rejected the allegations.

Greek operation on Turkish border to keep out migrants

The Greek ministry of foreign affairs, in a 25-page letter to the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, says its border operations are designed so that approaching potential asylum seekers "retreat and flee to the interior of the Turkish territory".

EU migration system relies on despots, Schäuble says

German parliament president Wolfgang Schäuble outlined a vision on migration that included possibly sending people to "facilities outside Europe" while at the same time acknowledging that the EU is reliant on "dubious powers and regimes".

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Analysis

Frontex scrutiny on rights violations is a PR stunt

Greece denies any illegal pushbacks at sea. The EU takes their version of events as face value, in a system unable and unwilling to shed doubt on Greek authorities - posing accountability questions on the EU's border guard agency Frontex.

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