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EU lawmakers condemn European Commission on silence over Greece pushback of migrants

June 6, 2023 at 4:14 pm

Refugees and migrants react as their boat sinks off the Greek island of Lesbos on October 30, 2015 [CHRISTOFILOPOULOS/AFP via Getty Images]

Some European lawmakers have condemned the European Commission’s silence on Greece’s illegal pushback of migrants and refugees, accusing it of complicity and lack of action to rectify the situation.

During a meeting of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs yesterday, some European lawmakers severely criticised and condemned the European Commission’s lack of action over the practice by Greek authorities’ of pushing back irregular migrants and leaving them stranded at sea.

The section of the debate focusing on Athens’ pushback policy was particularly in reference to footage revealed by The New York Times on 19 May, which showed 12 migrants on the Greek island of Lesvos – including children and a 6-month-old infant – being transported in a van by Greek border forces to a nearby remote area on 11 April.

The migrants were recorded being forced to board a high-speed inflatable boat, transferred to a Greek Coast Guard vessel, and then being abandoned on a floating boat in the middle of the Aegean Sea, where they were adrift until being picked up by the Turkish Coast Guard. The footage seems to confirm the systemic practice and policy that Athens has long denied.

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In comments directed to the Vice President of the European Commission, Margaritis Schinas, and the bloc’s Home Affairs Commissioner, Ylva Johansson, German lawmaker Birgit Sippel said it was not the first time that migrants had been pushed back by Greece and that the practice should not be encouraged.

She cited senior members of the Commission who she said congratulated and praised the Greek government on “protecting” European borders despite proof of the pushbacks being released. “This is not fighting pushbacks, this is empowering [and] encouraging people to continue that way”, she stressed.

Although Greece last month announced an investigation into the pushback reports, Sippel did not express hope in it and indicated that it may, instead, cover up the crimes. “I guess I know what will be the outcome of this, like in all of the other cases”, she said.

Dutch MP, Sophie In ‘T Veld, also condemned the Commission’s silence, insisting that the footage of the pushback is “crystal clear” and leaves no room for further investigation.

“This is about investigating criminal behaviour … Where’s the humanity in this? Where’s the sense of urgency in the commission?” she exclaimed. “This is not the European way of life, and I do not have confidence in the Commission that you are going to tackle this.”

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During the meeting, the two lawmakers also condemned the walls built around refugee camps in Greece, with Sippel highlighting the poor conditions inhabitants face within them, including the presence of unaccompanied minors, lack of healthcare and the unacceptable food, despite the relevant company receiving adequate money.

There is also the fact that refugees and migrants are unable to leave the camps and centres, effectively making them detention facilities.

“If this is the new great European standard, I will never accept this. From the outside, it looks like a high security prison”, Sippel stated. “I really wonder why we complained about [the United States] building a wall in Mexico at the border, but we are now building walls and obviously with European money.”