Greece: refugees criminalized and robbed during push-backs: goods and money stolen for over two million euros
ROME - Evidence of pushbacks and systematic rights abuses by the Greek authorities continues to mount. A recent report by the Greek Refugee Council (CGR), entitled "At the borders of Europe: between impunity and criminalization", documents cases of repatriations both in the Evros river area and in the Aegean islands. In the final part of the dossier, the Organization writes that pushbacks are a migration and border policy carefully planned by the Greek government and bring with it two consequences: the impunity of the perpetrators of the violations and the denial of justice for the victims.
Where do pushbacks happen? They mainly take place in the Evros river region and the Aegean islands. But the CGR dossier documents cases of informal arrests also in inland areas of Greece and also of people who had already obtained refugee status and therefore had their documents in order. As happened to an Afghan citizen rejected in Turkey.
The complaint of the UNHCR and other NGOs. In the period 2020-2021, the UN Refugee Agency recorded 539 cases of "informal forced returns" at both land and sea borders. In June 2021 Amnesty International published a report on the violent returns carried out by the Greek authorities. In March 2022 Human Rights Watch he told of the attacks by hooded men against migrant people in the Evros area. In August 2022, Médecins Sans Frontières released a report that thoroughly documents push-backs on the island of Samos, in the north-eastern Aegean, against people seeking international protection. L'United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees it even issued a statement in February 2022, in which it expressed concern about recurring reports of pushbacks, which by the way do not discourage departures, but only push people to take more dangerous routes.
The investigation of El Pais and Solomon. According to an investigation conducted by the Spanish daily and by Solomon, the Greek authorities stole more than two million euros in cash and valuables from irregular migrants between 2017 and 2022. A period during which more than twenty thousand people been pushed back to Turkey via the Evros River. When the crisis broke out on the Greek-Turkish border, the practice of pushbacks also extended hundreds of kilometers inland. The investigation conducted by El Pais confirms a very precise modus operandi: theft of assets, denial of the possibility of applying for asylum, detention in barracks or in warehouses used for arbitrary arrests, violence and refoulements towards Turkey, often on rubber boats entrusted to waters of the Evros.
The strategy of the authorities. “When you take their phones away from them, you get rid of any evidence. When you take their money, you make their life more difficult. When you take off their clothes and leave them naked—another increasingly common practice—you humiliate and demoralize them. It is part of a strategy to dissuade them from returning to Greece again,” she commented to Human Rights Watch's Spanish newspaper Eva Cosse. The survey findings are based on testimonies from people on the move, various NGOs, institutions, rights experts and border residents.
The witness. A 22-year-old Syrian man, arrested in a forest near the Evros River by Greek forces and later pushed back to Turkey, said he had been beaten and all his belongings, including his telephone, stolen. “When they put me in the car I realized there were a lot of phones and power banks in there. When one of the men took a cigarette out of his pocket, I saw that he had a wad of bills. I think they have been taken by others before,” he recounted.