A., 27-year-old Palestinian refugee, said that the Greek coastguard pushed him back to Turkey along with 52 others in early February 2013. He was in detention in Turkey on 18 February 2013 when he was interviewed by Amnesty International.
“The creation of the fence built by Greek resources is not the solution of the problem. But it is a measure, an option with a powerful symbolism, a message that shall reach nationals of third countries, smugglers andtraffickers who want to use our country as a transit country for their migration to the countries of European Union.”
Greek government’s response to the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, 19 April 2013.1
The external frontier of the EU between Turkey and Greece is made up of a 203km land border in the Evros region in the North and a sea border on the Aegean in the South. This border has long been one of the main entry routes for migrants and refugees trying to find safety or a better life in Europe. In 2012, it saw the largest number of irregular entries to the EU out of all the EU's external borders.2 A large number of those arriving are from conflict torn countries like Afghanistan and Syria. Research by Amnesty International has found instances of shocking human rights violations against them by the Greek authorities.
In the last few years Greece has invested millions of euros in keeping migrants out. In 2012 it completed a 10.5km fence along its land-border with Turkey and deployed almost two thousand new border guards there. In the meantime, a new body established by law in 2011 to process asylum requests first began functioning – and then only partially – in June 2013.
Amnesty International acknowledges the prerogative of states to control the entry into and stay of non-nationals in their territory and of the EU to support member states in carrying out legitimate border control. However, the manner in which Greece’s border with Turkey is being controlled is leading to serious human rights violations.
The Greek government is trying to seal its borders not only through increased surveillance and the construction of a fence; but research by Amnesty International shows that those who do arrive are sometimes pushed straight back to Turkey. Those returned to Turkey under such circumstances are denied the chance to apply for asylum in Greece or explain whether they have other needs, in flagrant violation of international law.
Amnesty International’s research also shows that the way in which such push-back operations are carried out by the Greek border guard or coastguard is putting lives at risk. Several of those interviewed by Amnesty International claimed they were abandoned in the middle of the sea on unseaworthy vessels or left on the Turkish side of the land border with tied hands.
As Turkey only recently passed its first law on international protection and does not provide refugee status to those coming from countries that are not members of the Council of Europe, the support individuals sent back to Turkey receive remains highly limited. Various human rights bodies and non-governmental organizations have also highlighted the difficulties of accessing protection in Turkey and the risk of being sent back to a country where some might face persecution or other serious harm.3
Migrants intercepted at borders and irregular migrants identified in the course of sweep operations within Greece, face lengthy detention – often in appalling conditions – without an assessment of the necessity and proportionality of detention as required by law.
Other EU member states appear only too happy for Greece to act as their gatekeeper. But the policies and practices along the Greek border do not just shame Greece: they shame the European Union as a whole. They expose the bitter irony of European countries pressing for peace abroad while denying asylum to, and risking the lives of those who seek refuge in Europe from conflicts in their homelands.