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UN raises alarm over increasing pushbacks at European borders

February 22, 2022 at 3:51 pm

Turkish authorities give clothes and shoes to 35 migrants pushed back by Greece, in Edirne, Turkiye on February 3, 2022 [Gökhan Balcı / Anadolu Agency]

The United Nations has raised alarm against pushbacks at European borders, a tactic used by authorities in which asylum seekers are forced back across the border, often violently, despite entering the country.

There is an “increasing number of incidents of violence and serious human rights violations against refugees and migrants,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

The UNHCR has recorded almost 540 incidents where refugees have been informally returned by Greece since the beginning of 2020.

Thousands of refugees attempt to get into Europe by making the sea crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands and then travelling onwards from there.

Two weeks ago, pushbacks were in the spotlight after 19 refugees were found at the Turkish border town of Ispala in northwestern Turkey after freezing to death in the worst snowstorm that had hit the region in the last decade.

Turkish authorities accused Greece of stripping them of their clothes then pushing them back across the border.

Read: Turkey, Greece FMs meet in Athens to resolve tensions

Whilst human rights organisations have condemned the practice, labelling it a violation of international law, the Greek government has repeatedly denied that pushbacks take place.

“It is deeply troubling that Turkish-driven propaganda and fake news about illegal migration is so often mistakenly taken as fact,” said Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi in a statement.

In April 2021, 11 Syrian nationals filed a complaint against Greece at the European Court of Human Rights after it towed them and some 200 other refugees in the Mediterranean Sea back to Turkish waters and left them adrift.

On board were at least 40 children and one pregnant woman. Passengers accused Greek authorities of beating them up.

In July the same year a group of asylum seekers accused the Greek authorities arresting them on the island of Lesbos, beating them, confiscating their documents, money and mobile phones, and pushing them back out to sea.

The EU’s border and coastguard agency Frontex has been accused of helping the Greek authorities push back refugees with one staff member telling the New York Times that Frontex officials had discouraged them from reporting an incident they had witnessed in which Greek authorities left a boat with refugees in it adrift in Turkish waters.

“With few exceptions European states have failed to investigate such reports, despite mounting, credible evidence,” said the UN’s Grandi of the pushbacks.

Read: Turkey has forcibly deported 155,000 refugees back to Syria, report says