Greek security forces and unidentified armed men at the Greece-Turkey land border have detained, assaulted, sexually assaulted, robbed, and stripped asylum seekers and migrants, then forced them back to Turkey, Human Rights Watch reported.
Twenty one 21 asylum seekers and migrants was interviewed by the rights group in Turkey about how they tried to enter Greece over the land border, following the Turkish government’s February 27 announcement that it would no longer stop asylum seekers and migrants from leaving Turkey to reach the European Union.
Those interviewed and thousands of others have traveled to Turkey’s Pazarkule border gate on the Greece-Turkey border and to the Evros River, which forms a natural border between Turkey and Greece, to the south of Pazarkule. Eight of the interviewees said Turkish police transported them to border villages and showed them where to cross into Greece.
In response, the Greek government reinforced its border with police, army, and Special Forces, which fired teargas and reportedly rubber bullets at people who approached the Pazarkule crossing.
Two asylum seekers who spoke to Human Rights Watch said that Greek security forces also used live fire to push people back. One of these people, interviewed in a hospital where he was getting treatment, said he was shot in the leg.
According to Turkish officials, Greek security forces have shot and killed at least three asylum seekers or migrants, but Human Rights Watch has not verified this number.
All those interviewed said that within hours after they crossed in boats or waded through the river, armed men wearing various law enforcement uniforms or in civilian clothes, including all in black with balaclavas, intercepted everyone in their group. All said the men detained them in official or informal detention centers, or on the roadside, and stole their money, mobile phones, and bags before summarily pushing them back to Turkey.
Seventeen described how the men assaulted them and others, including women and children, through electric shocks, beating with wooden or metal rods, prolonged beating of the soles of feet, punching, kicking, and stomping.
Human Rights Watch also interviewed five Turkish residents of border villages who described how between February 28 and March 06 they had helped care for large groups of people who returned injured and almost naked from Greece saying that Greek security forces had beaten, robbed, stripped, and deported them.
In most cases, the interviewees, said that armed men stripped them down to their underwear, including some women, and forced them across the Evros river back to Turkey. Many said that they were passed between various groups, suggesting coordination between police or soldiers and the unidentified men.
“The European Union is hiding behind a shield of Greek security force abuse instead of helping Greece protect asylum seekers and relocate them safely throughout the EU,” said Nadia Hardman, refugee rights researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch.
“The EU should protect people in need rather than support forces who beat, rob, strip, and dump asylum seekers and migrants back across the river.”
On March 06, the Turkish President’s communication director, Fahrettin Altun, condemned reports of Greek border security stripping, beating, and deporting asylum seekers across the Evros river, but Turkey continued to transport people to the border and urge them to cross.
On March 03, senior EU officials met Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at the Greece-Turkey land border, praising the government for protecting the border and referring to Greece as the EU’s “shield.”
In later statements, the European Commission president, Ursula van der Leyden, and EU Migration Commissioner Ylva Johansson said they had emphasised the need to respect fundamental rights, including the right to asylum.
Greece is bound by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which recognizes the right to seek asylum and guarantees protection from refoulement, the forcible return of anyone to a real risk of persecution or other serious harm. (Source: HRW)