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27th Jun 2022

Greek operation on Turkish border to keep out migrants

  • The Evros river runs along the land border between Greece and Turkey (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

A 25-page Greek government letter describes how its border operations along Turkey are designed to keep people from entering the country to claim asylum.

The admission is part of a wider response to complaints by the anti-torture committee (CPT), a body inside the Strasbourg-based human-rights watchdog Council of Europe.

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  • Filakio detention centre in Greece in 2012 (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

In it, the Greek ministry of foreign affairs says operations in the Evros region with the EU's border agency Frontex aim "to effectively prevent illegal entry into our country."

The operations listed include Broad Scale, Operation Shield, and the Frontex's Rapid Border Intervention 2020 and its Flexible Operational Activities Land 2020.

"The patrolling police and military officers are immediately informed, who make their presence felt with the use of light and acoustic signals, so that illegal immigrants (sic) not even enter the boats, but in fear of the Turkish army's arrival and their capture, retreat and flee to the interior of the Turkish territory," states the letter, published Thursday (19 November).

The comments are related to events in March this year, after Turkey attempted to blackmail political concessions after sending thousands of people to the Greek border.

The Greek government statement appears to be yet another indication of state-led pushbacks, but this time in the framework of the EU's most powerful agency Frontex.

A recently disclosed chain email from Frontex also shows how the Hellenic Coast Guard was taking orders to send people on rubber boats back into Turkish territorial waters - in violation of international law.

Others who do cross over the Turkish border at the Evros river area are arrested and then transferred to the nearby Fylakio detention centre.

The conditions of a pre-removal centre of the same name has been described by the anti-torture committee as appalling, who had first visited it in 2018, and then again in March this year.

"The CPT cannot understand how the Greek authorities can continue to detain small children let alone babies in such traumatising conditions for periods of up to one month or even longer," noted the report.

It said no improvements had since been made, demanding that the Greek government now shut it down or fully renovate it.

'Inhuman and degrading treatment'

But it reserved some of its harshest criticism to how the Greek authorities treated detained asylum seekers, including children as young as five at police stations.

In March, it visited two police cells crammed with 93 people in the Greek port of Samos in conditions reminiscent of Libyan detention centres.

Twenty of them were children and half were under the age of five. Another 15 were women, three of them pregnant.

One cell measured 42 m2 and held 43 people, affording each one less than 1 m2 of living space per person.

The second cell measured 32 m2 and held 50 migrants, affording each person 0.6 m2 of living space.

"These conditions clearly amount to inhuman and degrading treatment," said the committee.

It noted limited access to natural light. There were no other lights, no heat, no beds and no mattresses, it said.

Only three portable toilets were available, all of which were blocked.

"The migrants met had not had access to a shower for more than two weeks and no soap was given to them to wash their hands after going to the toilet," it said.

Women were given wipes but no other hygiene products. Some had stayed there for 18 days, with no possible contact with the outside world.

The committee said no efforts had been made to improve their conditions in what "could be considered an inhuman punishment."

Similar conditions were also found at other Greek police cells, including ones at the Isaakio Police and Border Guard Station.

The committee said one of the sanitary annexes at Isaakio contained piles of faeces on the floor and had an overpowering stench.

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