Lawyers will file a case at the UN human rights committee this week on behalf of a Syrian man living in Germany, who says he was picked up by Greek authorities and sent to Turkey while he searched for his brother in Greece.
It is the latest on the allegation that Greek authorities are illegally expelling refugees via a state-sanctioned policy of summary expulsion and enforced disappearance.
The Syrian – who has not been named – said he flew to Greece after he heard that his 11-year-old brother had tried to follow him to Europe but had disappeared crossing the border from Turkey to Greece.
The 26-year-old told the Guardian that Greek authorities detained and forced into a boat to Turkey in November 2016.
Already granted asylum by Germany, his papers were confiscated which meant he was not able to return home for three years.
“All I could think about was my brother,” he said. He travelled to a small town in the north-east Evros region where the boy had last been heard of and started showing people his photograph, hoping to trigger someone’s memory.
It was at this point that three policemen picked him up and took him to a detention centre, he said. Greek authorities confiscated his identification papers, strip-searched him and put him in a cell with around 50 other detainees.
The man said that late at night he was taken by authorities to the border with other detainees and put on a small boat across the Evros/Meriç River to Turkey. Hours later, the group were picked up by the Turkish military.
Distraught and without his documents, he eventually reached the German embassy in Istanbul a few days later, where he tried to explain how he had ended up there when only days before he had been at home in Germany.
It was three years before his documents were reissued. During this time he attempted to cross back to Greece and was pushed back 11 times. He finally made it to Athens, where he relied on the kindness of strangers to survive.
He found a lawyer through Greek NGO Human Rights 360, and he was finally able to return to Germany last year and his residency was reissued in May.
“There are so many people who are oppressed and face great injustice … others should know about this,” he said. He still hopes to hear news of his young brother, who remains missing.
Amanda Brown, a researcher at the Global Legal Action Network (Glan) who has worked on the case, said it was “an emblematic and aggravated example of Greece’s clandestine deportation apparatus”.
She added: “A legally present foreign national is apprehended, solely due to his race and national origin. He is then stripped of his documentation, subjected to an enforced disappearance, and violently expelled overnight to a country he did not come from. He is then forced to endure repeated instances of border violence until he can recover his documents and return home years later.
“Even his EU asylum status, which Germany had granted him, couldn’t protect him. This approach to migration governance is inhuman and manifestly unlawful.”
Forensic Architecture, based at the University of London, has digitally recreated the alleged pushbacks from Greece to Turkey. “Our research confirms that pushbacks in the Evros/Meriç border are both systematic and widespread,” said Stefanos Levidis, project coordinator at Forensic Architecture.
Valentina Azarova, a legal adviser to Glan, who is filing this case with Human Rights 360, said she hopes it will result in accountability.
“Instances before the Greek public prosecutor and administrative courts have failed because Greek authorities have persisted in denying that such incidents are even occurring,” she said.
The Greek ministry for migration and the Greek police did not respond to a request for comment. (Source: The Guardian)