28th Sep 2023

Greece defends disputed media and migration track record

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Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis defended his country's track record on migration and media freedoms, two issues that have generated international outrage.

Speaking to European lawmakers on Tuesday (5 July) in Strasbourg, Mitsotakis refuted evidence of illegal pushbacks of asylum seekers at the land border with Turkey and in the Aegean Sea.

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He said Greece fully respects fundamental rights, despite numerous reports by investigative journalists, UN agencies and others, that say otherwise.

This includes the UN human rights body, which in April stated in Greece "pushbacks at land and sea borders have become de facto general policy."

Mitsotakis also doubled down on claims by Athens that such reports are being pushed by Turkey, as part of a wider propaganda narrative instigated by Ankara.

"I would urge you to think more in terms of push forwards rather than push backs," he said, suggesting Turkey is helping shuffle people towards Greece in contravention of a stalled migrant-swap EU Turkey deal.

The Greek PM's comments on migration received vocal support from the German centre-right MEP Manfred Weber, who presides over the European People's Party (EPP).

So too did far-right German Gunnar Beck, who cited the great replacement theory, a debunked white nationalist conspiracy.

But others pressed back on the Greek migration record, including Dutch Green MEP Tineke Strik.

"The [Greek] border guards putting lives at risk enjoy impunity, but those who save lives are convicted," she said.

"Those helping refugees are restricted and criminalised. Those who speak up including the media are silenced," she said.

Others get harassed, including Dutch journalist Ingeborg Beugel who last year, at a press conference in Athens, directly called Mitsotakis a liar for making claims that Greece does not push back migrants. She soon afterwards received online death threats before returning to the Netherlands.

Mitsotakis then shed doubt on Reporters without Reporters, a Paris-based NGO, which had ranked Greece as among the worst in press freedoms in Europe.

"Does one really believe in this house that countries such as Chad in Africa have more media freedom than Greece?," he said.

The NGO placed Greece 108 out of 180 in the global ranking, with 180 (North Korea) being the worst. Chad ranked 104.

It noted the assassination of veteran crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz in April 2021, as well as restrictions on journalists when it comes to covering issues like migration and Covid-19.

But Mitsotakis then held up two Greek newspapers to demonstrate his point that the media can print whatever they want in Greece without censorship or government control.

"Two indicative front pages from today's newspapers, which accused me of being a liar, a sycophant, and these are daily front pages," he said.

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