Access to the territory and push backs

Greece

Country Report: Access to the territory and push backs Last updated: 30/11/20

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Greek Council for Refugees Visit Website

Statistical overview

 

In 2019, 74,649 refugees and migrants arrived in Greece. This marks an increase of 48% compared to 2018 and further means that Greece alone received more arrivals than Spain, Italy, Malta and Cyprus combined (49,100).[1]

A total of 59,726 persons arrived in Greece by sea in 2019, compared to 32,494 in 2018. The majority originated from Afghanistan (40%), Syria (27.4%) and DRC (6.7%). More than half of the population were women (23%) and children (36%), while 41% were adult men.[2]

Moreover, 14,887 persons arrived in Greece through the Greek-Turkish land border of Evros in 2019, compared to a total of 18,014 in 2018, according to UNHCR.[3] According to police statistics, 8,497 arrests were carried out in 2019 for irregular entry on the Evros land border with Turkey,[4] compared to 15,154 arrests in 2018. According to the Reception and Identification Service (RIS), 14,257 persons were registered by the First Reception Service in the RIC of Fylakio (Evros) in 2019.[5]

However, the figure of entries through the Turkish land border in 2019 may under-represent the number of people actually attempting to enter Greece through Evros, given that cases of alleged pushbacks at the Greek-Turkish border have been systematically reported in 2019, as was the case in 2018.

According to these allegations, the Greek authorities in Evros continue to follow a pattern of arbitrary arrest of newly arrived persons entering the Greek territory from the Turkish land borders, de facto detention in police stations close to the borders (see Grounds for Detention), and transfer to the border, accompanied by the police, where they are pushed back to Turkey. These allegations also concern Turkish citizens, who have fled their country of origin and have been returned without having access to asylum.[6]

During 2019, 174 persons have been reported dead or missing at the Aegean Sea or the Evros border.[7]

The persisting practice of alleged pushbacks have been reported inter alia by UNHCR, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the UN Committee against Torture, the Greek National Commission on Human Rights and civil society organisations.

By way of illustration, UNHCR stated in May 2019 that it “remains seriously concerned over continued allegations of ‘pushback’ (informal forced returns), which appear to affect hundreds of third-country nationals summarily returned without an effective opportunity to access procedures or seek asylum”.[8]

In September 2019, the UN Committee Against Torture, in its concluding observations on the seventh periodic report of Greece, noted that “[t]he Committee is seriously concerned at consistent reports that the State party may have acted in breach of the principle of non-refoulement during the period under review. In particular, the reports refer to repeated allegations of summary forced returns of asylum seekers and migrants, including Turkish nationals, intercepted at sea and at the land border with Turkey in the north-east of the Evros region, with no prior risk assessment of their personal circumstances. According to the information before the Committee, Greek law enforcement officers and other unidentified forces involved in pushback operations have often used violence and have confiscated and destroyed migrants’ belongings. While noting that the Division of Internal Affairs of the Hellenic Police and the Greek Ombudsman initiated investigations into the allegations in 2017, the Committee is concerned that these administrative investigations have not included the hearing of live evidence from alleged victims, witnesses and complainants”.[9]

In December 2019, after having received information on summary returns across the Greece-Turkey land border, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention urged the Greek Authorities “to put an immediate end to pushbacks and to ensure that such practices, including any possible acts of violence or ill-treatment that has occurred during such incidents, are promptly and fully investigated”.[10]

Following allegation and reports regarding the alleged practices of pushbacks at the land borders in June 2017, the Greek Ombudsman initiated an ex officio investigation into the cases of alleged pushbacks. However, no final report has been made public up to May 2020. 

Following reports published inter alia by three Greek NGOs, including GCR[11] and Human Rights Watch,[12] the Public Prosecutor of Orestiada (Evros) initiated an investigation in March 2019 regarding the repeated allegations of systematic violence against migrants and refugees at the Evros river.

On 18 June 2019 GCR filed three complaints before the Prosecutor of First Instance of Athens, to be transmitted to the Prosecutor of Second Instance of Orestiada, concerning three separate incidents of alleged pushbacks during the period April-June 2019, representing 5 Turkish citizens, including one child. In May 2020 the three complaints were still at the stage of pre-trial investigation and their examination is pending in front of the competent authorities. On the same day GCR filed a report to the Prosecutor of the Supreme Court regarding incidents of pushbacks in the Evros region from April until June 2019. [13]  

However, up until May 2020 and despite the recommendation inter alia of the UNCAT to  “enhance efforts to ensure the criminal accountability of perpetrators of acts that put the lives and safety of migrants and asylum seekers at risk[14] said procedures have not come to an end.

 

Situation at the beginning of 2020

 

At the end of February 2020, thousands of persons, encouraged by the Turkish authorities have been moved to the Turkish-Greek land borders of Evros and have been trapped there, including vulnerable men, women and children, while violence rapidly escalated.[15] According to the Greek Authorities, between Saturday 29 February and Monday 2 March 2020, 24,203 attempts of irregular entry on the territory have been prevented.[16] Moreover, between Saturday 29 February and Sunday 8 March 2019, the prevention of 41,600 irregular entries has been reported.[17] Persons remaining on the Turkish side of the Greek Turkish land borders were removed by the end of March 2020.[18]

At the same time, an increasing number of pushbacks at the borders and the use of excessive force, including lethal force, were reported during that period.[19]  These allegations were dismissed by the Greek authorities as “fake news”. In May 2020, a question has been filed by 122 Members of the European Parliament regarding the alleged death of a person who seems to have been shot at the border, as demonstrated by the findings of a joint research of the Forensic Architecture, Bellingcat and Lighthouse Reports and the SPIEGEL.[20]       

A number of alleged pushbacks at the Aegean Sea have also been reported in particular in March 2020 and following tension at the Greek-Turkish land borders. As stated by the CoE Commissioner for Human Rights, on 3 March 2020,

“[r]egarding the situation in the Aegean Sea, I am alarmed by reports that some people in distress have not been rescued, while others have been pushed back or endangered. I recall that the protection of the lives of those in distress at sea is one of the most basic duties which must be upheld, and that collective expulsions constitute serious human rights violations”.[21]

On 6 March 2020, a Danish boat patrolling between Turkey and the Greek islands as part of the Frontex Operation Poseidon, has refused to push back rescued migrants at sea, despite orders to do so.[22]

An incising number of alleged pushbacks and illegal returns by sea to Turkey has further been reported since April 2020. According to some of these allegations, after reaching the Greek shore, people have reportedly been placed in life rafts and then left in Turkish territorial waters.[23]


[1] UNHCR, Europe Monthly Report, December 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3aKu5fF; UNCHR, Operational Portal, Mediterranean Situation: Greece, available at: https://bit.ly/3cOsjw8 .

[2] UNHCR, Sea Arrivals Dashboard, December 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3371krb.  

[3] UNHCR, Operational Portal, ibid.

[4] Information provided by the Directorate of the Hellenic Police, 8 February 2020.

[5] Information provided by Reception and Identification Service (RIS) as of 6 February 2020. 

[6]GCR, Repeated complaints on pushbacks in Evros, 9 May 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2TZ2Gjx.

[7] UNHCR, Operational Portal, ibid.

[8] UNHCR, Recommendations by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) concerning the execution of judgments by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in the cases of M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece (Application No. 30696/09, Grand Chamber judgment of 21 January 2011) and of Rahimi v. Greece (Application No. 8687/08, Chamber judgment of 05 April 2011), available at:  https://bit.ly/38JuVYG.

[9] UN Committee Against Torture, Concluding Observations on the seventh periodic report of Greece, 3 September 2019, CAT/C/GRC/CO/7, available at: https://bit.ly/2wKiqPm.

[10] Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Preliminary Findings from its visit to Greece (2 – 13 December 2019), available at: https://bit.ly/38HPAfV.

[11]  GCR, Arsis and HumanRights360, The new normality: Continuous push-backs of third country nationals on the Evros river, December 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2DsFj9S.

[12] CBC, Greek prosecutor investigating allegations of 'systematic' violence against migrants at Evros River, 6 March 2019, available at:  https://bit.ly/2TWUy2N.

[13] GCR, ‘GCR initiated legal action following the allegation of push backs in Evros’, 19 June 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2vbCutw.  

[14] UN Committee Against Torture, ibid.

[15] Council of Europe, Commissioner for Human Rights, Time to immediately act and to address humanitarian and protection needs of people trapped between Turkey and Greece, 3 March 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/39Hm0sd; see also UNHCR, UNHCR statement on the situation at the Turkey-EU border, 2 March 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2Q62sWN; Greek National Commission for Human Rights, Reviewing asylum and immigration policies and safeguarding human rights at the EU borders, 5 March 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/39HtXh3; Οpen Letter of 120 organisations regarding the current developments at the Greek border, 4 March 2020 available at:  https://bit.ly/2vWgnrr

[16] Euronews, Έβρος: Περισσότερες από 24.000 αποτροπές εισόδου από το Σάββατο, 3 March 2020, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/2vNp7jJ.

[17] Skai.gr, Έβρος: Εμποδίστηκε η παράνομη είσοδος σε πάνω από 41.000 άτομα, 8 March 2020, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/2U0tdga

[18]Έβρος : Αποχώρησαν το πρωί οι μετανάστες από το σημείο των επεισοδίων στις Καστανιές, 27 March 2020, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/3fJTlpJ.

[19] The New York Times, We Are Like Animals’: Inside Greece’s Secret Site for Migrants, 10 March 2020, available at: https://nyti.ms/2vhATm8; EUobserver, Migrants claim being shot by Greek police, Athens denies, 5 March 2020, https://bit.ly/3d2mJX1.

[20] Web24news, ‘Shots at the Greek border: MEPs call for EU investigation’, 12 May 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3cu8BoK.

[21] Council of Europe, Commissioner for Human Rights, ibid.

[22] Politico.eu, Danish boat in Aegean refused order to push back rescued migrants, 6 March 2020, available at: https://politi.co/2IEYXSM.

[23]Efsyn.gr, Επαναπροωθούν πρόσφυγες στα νησιά με ειδικές θαλάσσιες σκηνές, 7 April 2020; available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/3e18X6q; ECRE, ‘Greece: Still no Access to Asylum, Second Camp Quarantined, First Relocations Ahead, Push Backs to Turkey’, 9 April 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2Xahg9l; Efsyn.gr, Ακόμα 30 πρόσφυγες «εξαφανίστηκαν» από τη Σάμο, 29 April 2020, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/3dZD6Du; Aegean Boat Report, 5 May 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3dZD6Du.

 

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation