BY DAILY SABAH
ANKARA MAR 07, 2022 –
Greece should not pretend that only Ukrainians are the “real refugees” while illegally pushing back refugees from Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) Kenneth Roth said on Monday.
Criticizing Athens’ interior minister, Roth tweeted that “All deserve protection without falsely claiming it’s ‘safe’ for them elsewhere.”
Greece, which has adopted a tough line on migrants, last week urged help for Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion.
The conservative Greek government, in power since 2019, has strengthened patrols on the border with Turkey designed to crack down on migrants crossing into Greece.
Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi last week was criticized in parliament for calling fleeing Ukrainians “real refugees.” “They are war refugees, these are real refugees,” Mitarachi had told Skai TV on Saturday.
In response, former leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said it was “shameful (to hear that) refugees from Ukraine are real, but dark-skinned ones are not.”
Several media and pressure groups repeatedly criticize the government’s “anti-migration” policy, accusing Athens of “illegal pushbacks” of migrants on the Turkish border that Greece denies.
Last week, HRW made a written statement saying that “Greece should know that refugees can come from anywhere.”
“Greece uses the need to fight against ‘trafficking’ and the semblance of safety in Turkey as excuses to justify its heavy-handed and often abusive immigration control methods, including violent and unlawful pushbacks at its external borders with Turkey,” the HRW said.
It added that numerous reports by the media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including by HRW, “expose how Greek law enforcement officers detain, assault, rob and strip asylum seekers and migrants before forcing them back to Turkey.”
“The Greek government routinely denies involvement in pushbacks, while cracking down on those who report them,” it noted.
The HRW underlined further that “Greece is right to show solidarity with refugees fleeing Ukraine. But this moment should prompt a fundamental shift in Greece’s approach to dealing with people fleeing similar conflicts in other parts of the world and an end to Greece’s violent and abusive border polices that put refugees in harm’s way.”
Most recently, the bodies of six people, believed to be migrants, were found off the Greek island of Lesbos, authorities said, just as Athens is increasingly under pressure for its human rights abuses and pushbacks of migrants. The Greek coast guard said four bodies were found on the coast near the port of Mytilene and two others were taken from the water. The deceased were “foreigners,” the coast guard said, and a search is still ongoing for other possible victims and their vessel.
The head of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) last month voiced concern about reports that Greece was involved in nearly 540 incidents of informal returns of migrants at its land and sea borders with Turkey since 2020.
He added that three people have reportedly died since September 2021 in the Aegean Sea after being allegedly forced back into Greek waters. In some cases, UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said, migrants were reportedly “left adrift in life rafts or sometimes even forced directly into the water, showing a callous lack of regard for human life.”
The Greek government has always denied carrying out illegal pushbacks of migrants. The latest incident off Lesbos comes after the Feb. 3 incident in which 19 migrants were found frozen to death by Turkish coast guard units on its land border with Greece and accused Greek authorities of taking away their clothes and shoes and forcing them back into Turkey.
Turkey and Greece have been key transit points for asylum-seekers aiming to cross into Europe to start new lives, especially those fleeing war and persecution.
Turkey and human rights groups have repeatedly condemned Greece’s illegal practice of pushing back asylum-seekers, saying it violates humanitarian values and international law by endangering the lives of vulnerable migrants, including women and children.
Pushbacks are considered contrary to international refugee protection agreements, which dictate that people should not be expelled or returned to a country where their life and safety might be in danger due to their race, religion, nationality or membership in a social or political group.