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Hundreds protest in Athens and Istanbul over Greek refugee push back policy

February 8, 2022 at 1:44 pm

Protesters hold signs and banners as they stand next to a life raft during a demonstration in central Athens on February 6, 2022, against migrant pushbacks and border violence, after Turkish allegations that Greece’s border policy led last week 19 migrants to freeze to death. [ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images]

Hundreds of people protested in Athens over the weekend against the government’s policy on refugees at the Greek-Turkey border.

Last week Turkish authorities found the bodies of 19 people who had been stripped and pushed back to Turkey and then froze to death in Ispala, a small town close to the Greek border. This was as the worst snowstorm to hit the region in a decade covered both Turkey and Greece in snow.

This weekend 300 demonstrators marched to the Greek consulate in Istanbul to protest the deaths holding a banner “close borders to racism, open to humanity.”

The UN Refugee Agency said it was “shocked and deeply distressed” by reports of the 19 deaths.

Greece authorities denied they pushed the refugees back and said that they never made it to the border.

READ: UN Refugee Agency ‘shocked’ over migrant deaths on Greek-Turkish border

In November last year Greece was accused of carrying out the biggest pushback in years after it kept almost 400 asylum seekers on a vessel at sea for four days rather than taking them to a safe port when their vessel sent out a distress signal.

Eventually the Greek coastguard was forced to let them disembark on the island of Kos.

Push backs are carried out by authorities to disincentivise people from entering a country and can mean blocking dinghies until they run out of fuel and are then towed back to Turkish waters.

The UK government’s proposal to forcibly push back refugees attempting to cross the English Channel has been criticised by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

The committee called on the government to “switch focus” and “prioritise measures to ensure the safety of life at sea.”

Charities have consistently called on governments to offer safe routes for refugees as increasing border restrictions and pushbacks have forced people to take riskier routes.

Turkey is a major springboard for people from the Middle East, Asia and Africa on their way to Europe, with many crossing the northwest land border or using inflatable boats to reach the Greek Aegean islands.