29th Sep 2023

EU relying on 'ineffective' Greek body to probe pushback video

  • Footage from the New York Times video, showing masked men taking asylum seekers out of the back of an unmarked van (Photo: Screengrab/NYT)
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The European Commission says it is up to Greece to investigate illegal pushbacks of refugees after the New York Times published video evidence of Greek authorities abandoning people at sea, including a six-month old baby.

Such an investigation would involve the Greek national transparency authority — an institution that has been described as politically compromised and ineffective.

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  • When it comes to migration, the European Commission has described Greece as a 'shield' for the rest of the EU. EU Council chief Charles Michel (l), current Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis and EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, pictured in 2020 (Photo: European Union)

The same authority last year dismissed evidence of masked men turning away asylum seekers at EU borders, following an investigation by the Amsterdam-based LightHouse Reports.

Yet similar masked men can be seen in the New York Times video shuffling asylum seekers into the back of a van, then put on a speed boat, transferred to the Hellenic Coast Guard and set adrift on a rubber boat.

Critics say the Greek national transparency authority lacks the independence and the means to carry out investigations with any meaningful impact.

"It does not fulfil the constitutional requirements to be considered an actual independent authority," said Spyros-Vlad Oikonomou from the Greek Council for Refugees.

Oikonomou said the authority, in its probe into the LightHouse Reports investigation, had never spoken to the victims.

Other critics include Mary Lawlor, the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders.

Last summer, she said the Greek national transparency authority was "not equipped to conduct independent investigations into the management of migration flows."

Similar comments were made by a delegation of MEPs in March, which noted that officials of independent public bodies, like the Greek ombudsman, are often intimidated and harassed.

"We also note that the national transparency agency, which should play a vital role in scrutinising public authorities, does not seem to be effective," they said.

Yet the European Commission insists that this same authority help investigate the latest media revelations, which add to a body of evidence of illegal pushbacks by the Greek authorities.

"There must be an in depth investigation at national level in order to establish the circumstances that are at play," said a European Commission spokesperson.

"Depending on all of that, we will of course, take any measures that are necessary and any action that is necessary," she added.

Refugee Support Aegean, an NGO, also says the Greek national transparency authority does not have the proper expertise in investigating the Hellenic Police and Hellenic Coast Guard.

In a report out earlier this year, they note that the authority instead deals mostly with issues linked to municipal services, pensions, and health care.

Although Greece has enacted legislation to create a fundamental rights officer and a special commission on fundamental rights compliance, it too appears limited.

Greece's first fundamental rights officer, appointed last December, is a former armed forces official whose mandate does not cover border management, which typically involves pushbacks.

He was also elected by a five-member committee. Three of those were composed by representatives from different Greek state institutions, including the ministries of migration and citizen protection.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has also faulted the Greek justice system when it comes to law-enforcement brutality.

Last year, the court found severe deficiencies in the conduct of criminal investigations into a deadly shipwreck off the coast of Farmakonisi.

"The case has significant bearing on the credibility and quality of the Greek criminal justice system," said the Refugee Support Aegean, in their report.

Greek minister denies pushbacks despite evidence

Greek migration minister Notis Mitarachi defended his border forces despite evidence of illegal pushbacks, including a new testimony from a 26-year old asylum seeker from Gaza.

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