VIOLENCE and even torture at the Greek border is rampant as refugees continue to be pushed back without a chance to apply for asylum, an Amnesty International report has revealed.
Fresh evidence was presented of Greek authorities using illegal pushbacks as their de facto border control policy, mainstreaming a security-focused approach to border patrol.
“This is a very old story,” Dr Lena Karamanidou, research fellow for the project RESPOND, studying the multilevel governance of mass migration in Europe, told Redaction Report.
“Pushbacks and this kind of border violence have been happening since the ’90s.
“But what we have seen under the Greek New Democracy government is the normalisation of violent practices at the border, not only in relation to asylum but in relation to collective expulsion, unlawful returns, detentions and the use of physical and verbal violence that violates the right to dignity.
“Now the government is presenting pushbacks essentially as legal, not as a practice that breaks international law, but as prevention of entry.”
Pushbacks are where refugees and migrants are forced back over a border without consideration of their circumstances and without a chance to apply for asylum.
It is illegal under international refugee law, which states that everyone has the right to an individual assessment and to seek asylum.
In the Amnesty International report, the use of violence featured prominently through descriptions of pushbacks and the report contains details of beatings and abuse carried out by guards and civilian soldiers, some which equate to torture.
Jennifer Foster, refugee and migrant rights researcher/advisor at Amnesty International, told Redaction Report: “It’s not just the pushback that is a violation, it’s everything that happens in order to achieve the pushback.
“Pushbacks involve torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, they involve violence and beatings, arbitrary detention and arrest, people and children being deprived of their belongings and not having adequate food or water, sometimes for days.”
“We should not have had to do this report.
“There is so much information and documentation already out there and NGOs saying the same thing which they have been for quite some time.
“But they are being ignored. Greece continues to deny accountability and continues to deny it is happening, that’s really why we did this report.”
In a statement by the Greek migration authorities on June 7, Turkey was deemed a ‘safe country’ for asylum seekers from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Somalia.
This contributed to the growing narrative from the Greek authorities to legitimise the use of pushbacks into Turkey.
A recent report by the UN Human Rights Council described pushbacks as a manifestation of ‘entrenched prejudice against migrants’ and demonstrated ‘a denial of States’ international obligation to protect the human rights of migrants at international borders.’
There is evidence of pushbacks being used across Europe, including Spain, North Macedonia, Italy and Croatia, as documented by the Border Violence Monitoring Network.
There is now an abundance of evidence highlighting illegal border control methods and the use of violence against refugees and migrants in Greece and other countries.
The UN Special Rapporteur released a statement last week calling for States to immediately cease the ‘cruel and deadly practice’ of pushbacks.
Yet researchers and activists continue to criticise the apathy from leading authorities to take action and highlight the impunity enjoyed by border control bodies.
The discourse from the European Commission seems to echo the words of Ursula von der Leyen last March, referring to Greece as the “shield” of Europe.
Dr Karamanidou said: “Right now we are seeing, not only indifference but actual support by the European Commission for what the Greek government and security agencies are doing.
“I think it’s only grassroots movements, protests and taking cases to court that currently challenge what is happening on the ground.”
Amnesty has called for the EU and its member states to take urgent action against refugee violence, including launching infringement proceedings against Greece.
They have demanded the creation of an independent monitoring mechanism, to monitor and report on the use of pushbacks and the human rights abuses that accompany them.
This includes providing access to remedies so that victims are able to come forward and say what happened to them, without being penalised for doing so.
Ms Foster addded that it is also the responsibility of EU member states to take accountability for what is happening at international borders.
She said: “Greek borders are European borders, so, particularly states in Western Europe who like to feel good about themselves in terms of human rights, they need to understand that this is happening and they have to do more.
“They’re part of the problem and they have to be part of the solution to get it to stop.”
The Greek embassy and European Commission were contacted for comment.
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