The Greek government continues to deny it has been pushing back thousands of migrants and asylum seekers trying to reach its shores, despite evidence that it has been secretly doing so, Human Rights Watch said.
In a recent interview with CNN, Greece’s Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, denied the allegations and instead accused Turkey of peddling “misinformation” about his country.
Confronted with a New York Times article documenting the issue published on August 14, Mitsotakis said, “It has not happened. We’ve been the victims of a significant misinformation campaign”.
But Human Rights Watch said evidence and reports describing the abuses are too many to be ignored.
The rights group said it reviewed credible footage and interviewed victims and witnesses who described how the Greek Coast Guard personnel, police, and armed masked men carried out summary returns from the Greek islands, forcing people onto small inflatable rescue rafts and sending them back to Turkish waters.
Human Rights Watch interviewed Marwan (a pseudonym), 33, from Syria, who said that on March 08, the Greek Coast Guard carried out life-threatening manoeuvres to force the small boat carrying him and 22 other passengers, including women and children, back to Turkey.
“It was like a battle – like living in Syria, we thought we were going to die,” Marwan said.
Human Rights Watch and others have also reported in recent years on the systematic pattern of brutal Greek border police pushbacks of migrants and asylum seekers at the Evros River, a natural land border between Greece and Turkey.
For the first time this year, the rights group also documented collective expulsions of asylum seekers deep inside Greece, from the Diavata Camp in Thessaloniki, who were then forced to cross the land border into Turkey.
Human Rights Watch said the European Commission, which provides financial support to the Greek government for migration control, has done little to hold Greece accountable.
Instead, it is turning a blind eye to the horrifying abuses that people seeking protection face when trying to reach Europe’s shores, Human Rights Watch said.
Mitsotakis’ denial to CNN has rightly stirred controversy. He should use future interviews to pledge to end the pushbacks and outline steps to make this happen. That would be a better way to explain developments in Greece to an international audience. (Source: HRW)