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1st Aug 2021

Greece dismisses EU states' objections on refugee travel

  • An new Amnesty International report has found fresh evidence of pushbacks in Greece (Photo: Stephen Ryan / IFRC)

Greece has entrenched its position on permitting migrants and refugees to travel freely throughout the European Union.

"The concept of 'secondary movement' is out of date," Greek migration minister Notis Mitarachi told an online panel hosted by the London School of Economics on Tuesday (22 June).

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Secondary movement refers to onward travel by migrants and refugees from the EU state they initially arrived in - often Italy or Greece.

The issue has caused political tensions among some other EU states - including the introduction of temporary border restrictions and controls.

A letter to the European Commission earlier this month had also complained about secondary movements from Greece.

Jointly signed by interior ministers from France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, the letter noted a "rapid increase" of people traveling with Greek documents for refugees.

They said the refugees are using family visits and tourism as a pretext to then lodge asylum claims upon arrival.

"We would ask for a decisive step to be taken to put an immediate end to the flagrant abuse of refugee travel documents," notes the letter.

Mitarachi dismissed the concerns, describing Europe as a "common space".

"We're obliged to provide residence permits and travel documents to recognised refugees," he said, suggesting they are attracted to higher salaries and benefits found elsewhere.

The issue is likely to further complicate negotiations on EU asylum and migration reforms as issues of solidarity continue to elude policy and law makers.

"The solidarity, between member states, and is also to prevent secondary movement, this is a core area where we are failing today," said EU home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, in late May.

Her statement was echoed by Stephan Mayer, an official from Germany's interior minister.

"It is important to us that sufficient priority is given to preventing irregular secondary movements," he had said, also in May.

The back and forth comes as Greece seeks to further secure its own borders, return unwanted migrants, and prevent others from reaching the Aegean islands from Turkey and the Evros land border region.

Amnesty documents new pushbacks in Greece

Athens has also come under increasing pressure over push-backs - an illegal practice where asylum seekers are forced back into Turkey.

Greece denies the allegations and claims it adheres to laws including an EU regulation on border surveillance.

But a new 46-page report by Amnesty International, out on Wednesday, has provided further fresh evidence of the abuse.

"Our research shows that violent pushbacks have become the de facto Greek border control policy in the Evros region," said Amnesty International's Adriana Tidona, in a statement.

Based on testimonies, the research documents 21 new pushback incidents spanning June to December 2020.

It said some are apprehended from mainland Greece and returned, including two cases where people had registered-protection status.

The NGO also faults Turkey and the EU's border agency Frontex, which has deployed several hundred guards in Greece.

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