29th Sep 2023

Migration commissioner: Greek pushback film 'clear deportation'

  • 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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EU migration commissioner Ylva Johansson says video evidence published by the New York Times of asylum seekers, including a six-month old baby, being set adrift on a raft by Greek authorities "seems to be clear deportation."

The comments, made on Monday (5 June) to MEPs in the civil liberties committee, came amid the growing outrage over the lack of accountability of illegal pushbacks of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers along the EU's external borders.

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"This is not the first time that we had this situation," she said.

The Danish Refugee Council, an NGO, says they documented almost 10,700 individual pushbacks throughout the EU in the first four months of this year alone.

The New York Times story and video, published last month, adds to that expanding body of evidence.

But whereas Johansson issued a clear verdict on the video, Margaritis Schinas, the European Commission's vice president in charge of promoting European values, appeared less convinced.

Schinas defends Greece

Speaking alongside Johansson on Monday, the Greek commissioner, refused to draw any conclusions on the video, noting it was released two days before the national Greek elections.

He also praised Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis for taking a personal interest in the investigation and then described Greek border management in glowing terms for having rescued children in the past.

"There is humanity. There is solidarity," said Schinas.

But when pressed on a similar incident of a pushback of a Frontex interpreter, also revealed by the New York Times last December, he drew a blank.

"I have no information on that," he said.

The interpreter is alleged to have been mistaken for an asylum seeker, beaten by Greek border guards, and then forced to Turkey.

The Greek national transparency authority (NTA) told the European Commission that the interpreter case is with the public prosecutors.

The same authority is now in charge of investigating the latest New York Times pushback video.

Critics, including the UN special rapporteur for human rights, say the body is "not equipped to conduct independent investigations into the management of migration flows."

But Schinas refused to make similar assertions, noting that Greek national transparency authority should be given some leeway because migration "has not been in their core duties in the past."

But he said those responsible of any wrong-doing, when it comes to pushbacks, need to be brought to justice.

Similar statements have been in the past with little follow-through, posing questions as to what extent the European Commission is willing to challenge national authorities.

Earlier this year, the commission initiated two infringement cases against Greece on migration.

According to Greek media, one of them deals with the arbitrary detention of asylum seekers in EU-funded closed control access centres.

The centres are located on the Greek islands and are surrounded by barbed-wire fences, surveillance cameras, and fingerprint scanning at gates.

But Schinas defended them, claiming that they adhere to European standards and drew parallels to the EU institutions themselves.

"People are not detained. People can and are free to come and go leave and enter. This regulated access is based on a badge system, bit like we're having in the institutions," he said.

When pressed on internal documents released by the commission to Al-Jazeera, he once again drew a blank.

The media outlet, citing the documents, said that the EU-funded facilities on the Greek islands of Samos, Leros and Kos, struggle with staff shortages and allegations of sexual assault against children.

Johansson confirmed the report by saying that the centres are rife with problems.

"There are a long, long row of different problems that comes up," said Johansson of the centres, citing the lack of access to health care and water as examples.

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

The European Commission says it cannot act on latest revelations by the New York Times of illegal pushbacks of asylum-seekers until authorities in Greece first conduct a national investigation. Critics say those same authorities are politically compromised and ineffective.

EU creating new incentive for illegal pushbacks

After years of negotiations, EU states finally reached a political agreement on asylum in order to start negotiations with the European Parliament. But a closer look at the details behind last week's agreement, reveals a new recipe for pushbacks.

Ministers given 50/50 chance of reaching EU asylum deal

EU home affairs ministers are gathering in Luxembourg to thrash out an agreement on core asylum and migration reforms. But expectations of an agreement, following their meeting in Luxembourg on Thursday remained mixed.

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