Greece: 17000 Asylum Seekers Illegally Expelled in 2021

Greece said that some 40,000 illegal migrants had been blocked from entering the country along the northern border with Turkey since the beginning of the year.

A migration ministry source said migration flows to all of Greece in the first four months of 2022 were nearly 30 percent higher than in the same period last year.

In 2021, more than 6,400 asylum applications submitted in Greece were rejected as “inadmissible”, while 17,000 migrants and asylum seekers were forcibly returned in pushback operations at sea and land borders with Turkey.

Global Rights Watch (GRW) has documented over the past few years the unlawful return, including through pushbacks, of groups and individuals from Greece to Turkey by Greek law enforcement officers or unidentified masked men, who appear to be working in tandem with border enforcement officials.

These returns are carried out mainly through pushbacks and collective expulsions and are often accompanied by violence.

Greece is reportedly employing third-country nationals, including Syrians, Pakistanis and Afghans, in its illegal pushback operations across the land border with Turkey.

According to reports from rights groups, as well as interviews conducted by the New York Times with four survivors of illegal expulsion, the practice has been a systematic part of Greece’s pushback operations for well over a year.

 “It was very inhumane,” said Najma al-Khatib, a 50-year-old Syrian teacher, who says masked Greek officials took her and 22 others, including two babies, under cover of darkness from a detention center on the island of Rhodes on July 26 last year and abandoned them in a rudderless, motor less life raft before they were rescued by the Turkish Coast Guard.

“I left Syria for fear of bombing — but when this happened, I wished I’d died under a bomb,” she told The Times.

GRW has recorded multiple incidents in which Greek Coast Guard personnel, sometimes accompanied by armed masked men in dark clothing, unlawfully abandoned migrants – including those who had reached Greek territory. They abandoned the migrants at sea, on inflatable vessels without motors; towed migrant boats to Turkish waters; or intercepted, attacked, and disabled boats carrying migrants.

Pushbacks violate multiple human rights norms, including the prohibition of collective expulsion under the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to due process in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the right to seek asylum under EU asylum law and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and the principle of non-refoulement under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

GRW calls for an independent investigation into pushback practices in Greece and all allegations of collective expulsions and border violence, as well as whether any government officials issued orders that resulted in acts that not only violated the law, but also endangered the lives and safety of displaced people.

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