Commission asks Greece for transparency on pushbacks to release migration funds

“We are now waiting for more details from the Greek authorities before we can finalise our assessment,” the official noted. [Shutterstock/Nicolas Economou]

The European Commission has asked Greece to set up an “independent” mechanism to monitor and avoid pushbacks of migrants at its border as a condition to release an additional €15.83 million in migration funding requested by Athens.

“Setting up an independent and credible monitoring mechanism will help prevent fundamental rights violations at the borders and ensure that procedures are in place to effectively investigate any allegations of such violations,” an EU spokesperson told EURACTIV.

The EU official added that the Commission made it clear to the Greek government that it is important that the Greek authorities swiftly establish such a mechanism.

“We are now waiting for more details from the Greek authorities before we can finalise our assessment,” the official noted.

The EU spokesperson emphasised that the Commission is “deeply concerned’ about all reports and allegations of pushbacks and mistreatment, and takes these very seriously.

“The Commission continues to call on all member states concerned to fully and credibly investigate all allegations, establish the facts and to take the necessary follow-up actions if and when wrongdoing is established,” the spokesperson said.

Greece recently came into the spotlight after several civil society organisations accused the conservative government of conducting illegal pushbacks at land and sea.

“Greek border forces are violently and illegally detaining groups of refugees and migrants before summarily returning them to Turkey, in contravention of their human rights obligations under EU and international law,” Amnesty International said in a statement.

Athens rejects the allegations as unfounded. Migration minister Notis Mitarakis recently said those allegations rely on footage or testimonials provided for from the country of departure.

“Numerous cases have been investigated, including by the European Union and reports have found no evidence of any breach of EU fundamental rights,” he said.

MEP: Turkey is not a safe third country

In June, the Greek government decided to brand Turkey as a “safe country” for asylum seekers from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Somalia.

In practice, this means that asylum seekers who come to Greece from Turkey can be deported back regardless of the basis of their claim.

EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson saw nothing “strange” in Greece’s move but said still it needs to be an individual decision for each individual.

Maria Walsh, an EU lawmaker for the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), told EURACTIV that branding Turkey as a safe country was not the right decision.

“We, Europeans, need to take a hard look at ourselves and figure out why we’re comfortable calling Turkey a safe third country when they have pulled out from the Istanbul convention”.

The Irish MEP, who visited last Friday the Mavrovouni camp in the island of Lesvos one year after the fire of the Moria camp, pointed out the abuse of women both online and offline as well as hate crimes and discrimination the LGBTQ community activists is experiencing in Turkey.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC), a humanitarian NGO, published a report suggesting refugees in Lesvos are still living under inhumane conditions.

IRC’s Area Manager for Lesvos Angeliki Kalogeridi told EURACTIV that that 63% of the asylum seekers in the camp are Afghans and from those, 95% have reported experiencing depression in the last year.

Kalogeridi also raised questions over considering Turkey as a safe country, saying it has created a lot of distress to asylum seekers.

Especially the asylum seekers from Afghanistan, who have been rejected asylum twice, are now literally trapped on the island as they cannot go back to Taliban-led Afghanistan or Turkey, where their safety cannot be guaranteed.

“We need more clarification on why Turkey was designated as a safe country for them when it’s not”, she said.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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