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EU calls for independent inquiry into Greece ‘pushback’ of asylum seekers

Jennifer Rankin and Lisa O'Carroll in Brussels
Tuesday May 23, 2023

Officials make formal request to Athens for investigation after video purports to show people abandoned at sea

A dinghy approaches the Greek island of Lesbos. Photograph: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

EU authorities have called on Greece to conduct an independent investigation into video footage that purports to show the forced expulsion of asylum seekers from its territory.

In a statement on Twitter released the day after Greek elections, the EU home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, said her officials had written to Athens with a formal request “that this incident be fully and independently investigated”.

She recalled a meeting she held with the Greek government a year ago when she “made clear that there [was] no place for illegal deportations” and said the European Commission was ready to take “formal steps, as appropriate” without elaborating.

The video footage, filmed by an Austrian activist on Lesbos and published by the New York Times last Friday, shows 12 people – men, women and children – being taken out of a van on the island, before being towed out to sea and abandoned on an inflatable raft. The paper subsequently interviewed 11 of the asylum seekers at a detention centre in Izmir on the Turkish coast and used the coordinates of other vessels to verify the footage.

“We didn’t expect to survive on that day,” Naima Hassan Aden, a 27-year-old from Somalia, who was forced out of Greece with her six-month-old baby, told the paper. “When they were putting us on the inflatable raft, they did so without any mercy.”

The Greek government, which did not immediately comment on the video, has insisted its migration policy is tough, but fair. The prime minister, Kyriákos Mitsotákis, who on Sunday beat the leftwing opposition, but fell short of an absolute majority, last week said he had protected his country’s borders at land and sea.

A European Commission spokesperson rejected suggestions that the incident had been fuelled by remarks, three years ago, by its president, Ursula von der Leyen, who said Greece was Europe’s “shield” in deterring migrants.

The spokesperson said the commission had been unable to identify whether reports in the New York Times that the boat was paid for by EU funds was accurate.

The Greek government has faced repeated allegations of pushbacks. Previous expulsions at sea have been partly captured on video, but Greek authorities argue they are permitted to repulse undocumented migrants attempting to enter the country’s territory. Independent monitors have pieced together apparent pushbacks from Greek land, but this incident appears to be the first such video footage.


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