Greece’s heavy-handed approach to migrants: abandon them at sea

Greece’s heavy-handed approach to migrants: abandon them at sea

Last March, the EU announced its support for the Greek Government in the form of a EUR 700 million financial support package that was not intended to help refugees, but rather to detain them and prevent them crossing the EU border. All this with help from Frontex, which is providing 100 border guards, one coastal patrol vessel, six patrol boats, two helicopters, one aircraft and several border patrol vehicles.

The report published by the New York Times on an extensive investigation concluded that after interviewing numerous refugees and organisations working on the ground, the Greek civil servants secretly dropped at sea at least 1 072 asylum seekers in at least 31 expulsions, often taking them to the edge of Greek territorial waters and abandoning them on overburdened inflatable life rafts.

On 20 August 2020, Members of the European Parliament, Manu Pineda and Sira Rego of the Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left, filed a written parliamentary question to the European Commission. The MEPs asked the Commission “will it investigate this situation and the use of EU funds for these awful practices?” and “will it continue to support Greece’s migration management and its heavy-handed defence of EU borders?”

On 23 November, Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson responded on behalf of the European Commission. She stated that “the Commission has repeatedly stressed that while the protection of EU external borders is a priority, it is also necessary to uphold EU fundamental rights and values” and “any measures taken to address a difficult border situation must be proportionate, necessary and respect all rights enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU and the principle of non-refoulement”.

Commissioner Johansson underlined that “the Commission takes allegations of push-backs and mistreatment very seriously and expects national authorities to investigate, with a view to establishing the facts and appropriately follow up on any wrongdoing”. She reported that “of the EUR 700 million financial support package, EUR 350 million has been allocated to support the country’s reception capacity, the accommodation of refugees and asylum-seekers and protection activities, including addressing the needs of unaccompanied children” and “the remaining EUR 350 million will be allocated to further increase the reception capacity, support provision of services such as catering and transportation, provide emergency items and additional medical teams and, if needed, reinforce border management at Greece’s external borders”.

Commissioner Johansson declared that “the Commission has in place monitoring and control mechanisms for the implementation of the financed programmes/projects, including as regards the compliance with fundamental rights”.

Finally, Commissioner Johansson concluded that “in recognition of the complex and difficult situation at the Greek-Turkish border, which concerns not only Greece but Europe as a whole, the Commission continues to provide financial and operational support, including via a dedicated taskforce, as well as to coordinate support by Member States, including as regards the relocation of unaccompanied minors and other migrants in a vulnerable situation”.

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