GREECE: “Stop Putting Lives at Risk. Seeking Asylum Is Not A Crime”

“We were left in the middle of the sea, with nothing but a damaged boat.”  B, a 17-year-old boy from Afghanistan, told Amnesty International what happened to him in late February 2013, after he and his family boarded a rubber boat with 36 others from Syria, Sudan and Iran. They started their journey across the Aegean Sea from the city of Izmir in Turkey, destination: Greece. Read his full story in the briefing “Enter at your peril – Lives put at risk at the gate of Europe”.

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Detained migrants

B’s story and the many other testimonies collected by Amnesty International paint a grim picture of what is happening to migrants and refugees along the Greek border. Far away from the public eye, Greek authorities are engaging in unlawful push-backs on the Aegean Sea and along the river Evros. Push-backs are collective expulsions of a group of people without making an assessment of the circumstances of each person. This practice puts lives of people, including children, at risk and is against the law. People described how their inflatable boats were rammed or knifed, or how they nearly capsized while they were being towed or circled by a Greek coastguard boat. Almost every person who claimed to have been pushed back said that they either experienced or witnessed violence and ill-treatment. They reported being slapped and beaten. Their belongings were taken away, or thrown into the sea.

The alarming number of testimonies collected by Amnesty International suggests that push-back practices are regularly employed by the Greek border police and coastguards.

The gatekeeper of Europe

Greece has to manage a large flow of migrants and refugees entering Greece, most of whom wish to continue to other EU countries. This responsibility is particularly difficult for Greece as a country that is heavily affected by the economic crisis. The EU and its Member States should support the Greek government in ensuring the rights of all migrants and refugees. They should find new ways of sharing this responsibility more equally across the EU. Indeed, the policies and practices along the Greek border do not just shame Greece. They shame the European Union as a whole.

Take action

There can be no excuse for the actions of members of the Greek border police and coastguard. These blatant human rights abuses must be stopped. Add your voice. Act now by signing our petition to the Greek Minister of Public Order and Citizen Protection.

To Mr Nikos Dendias, Minister of Public Order and Citizen Protection

Dear Minister,

I am shocked to learn that women, men and children seeking refuge in Europe are being pushed back to Turkey at the Greek border. Many of those returned are fleeing conflicts in countries such as Syria and Afghanistan.
Such push-back operations are unlawful and often dangerous. I am also concerned by reports of violence and ill-treatment by Greek officers during these operations.

Irregular migrants and refugees who make the perilous journey to Greece are invariably detained for prolonged periods, often in poor conditions, in violation of international standards requiring detention to be used as a measure of last resort.

I am well aware that the large influx of migrants and asylum-seekers into Greece presents real challenges for your country. I therefore support Amnesty International’s calls for more assistance to Greece from other EU member states and greater responsibility sharing between them. However, there can be no excuse for the human rights violations committed by members of the Greek border police and coastguard.
I urge you to:

– Immediately halt the unlawful push-back of migrants and refugees on Greece’s borders with Turkey, investigate allegations of collective expulsions and ill-treatment, and prosecute those involved;
– Ensure that all those intercepted at the borders are treated in compliance with international standards including access to individualized procedures which enable them to lodge asylum applications and raise other immediate protection needs;
– Respect the right to liberty by ending indiscriminate and prolonged detention of irregular migrants and asylum-seekers; and use alternatives to detention where necessary.

Amnesty International