In a damning report, Human Rights Watch claimed with evidence that Greek law enforcement officers at the land border with Turkey in the northeastern Evros region are using extreme violence while pushing back migrants and asylum seekers, in direct violation of European and international law.
The police officers are also confiscating and destroying the migrants’ belongings, according to the claim by the international human rights watchdog organization.
“People who have not committed a crime are detained, beaten, and thrown out of Greece without any consideration for their rights or safety,” said Todor Gardos, Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Greek authorities should immediately investigate the repeated allegations of illegal pushbacks.”
Human Rights Watch interviewed 26 asylum seekers and other migrants in Greece in May, and in October and November in Turkey. They are from Afghanistan, Iraq, Morocco, Pakistan, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen, and include families traveling with children.
In an embarrassing move against Greece and the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who expressed “solidarity with migrants and refugees” at a United Nations conference in migration in Morocco last week, a video was posted across various social media channels highlighting the claims by Human Rights Watch.
According to the report, most incidents took place between April and November. All of those interviewed reported hostile or violent behavior by Greek police and unidentified forces wearing uniforms and masks without recognizable insignia.
Twelve individuals said that police or these unidentified forces accompanying the police stripped them of their possessions, including their money and personal identification, which were often destroyed. Seven said police or unidentified forces took their clothes or shoes and forced them back to Turkey in their underwear, sometimes at night in freezing temperatures.
Pregnant women, children not spared from violence
Abuse included beatings with hands and batons, kicking, and, in one case, the use of what appeared to be a stun gun. In another case, a Moroccan man said a masked man dragged him by his hair, forced him to kneel on the ground, held a knife to his throat, and subjected him to a mock execution. Others pushed back include a pregnant 19-year-old woman from Syria, and a woman from Afghanistan who said Greek authorities took away her two young children’s shoes.
Increasing numbers of migrants, including asylum seekers, have attempted to cross the Evros River, which forms a natural border between Greece and Turkey, since April. By the end of September, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) had registered 13,784 arrivals by land, a nearly fourfold increase over the same period last year.
Accounts gathered by Human Rights Watch are consistent with the findings of other nongovernmental groups, intergovernmental agencies, and media reports. UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, has raised similar concerns.
In a June report, the Council of Europe’s (CoE) Committee for the Prevention of Torture published findings that it had received “several consistent and credible allegations of pushbacks by boat from Greece to Turkey at the Evros River border by masked Greek police and border guards or (para-)military commandos.”
In November, the CoE human rights commissioner called on Greece to investigate allegations, in light of information pointing to “an established practice.”
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