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Greek government under fire after video shows ‘pushback’ of asylum seekers

Saturday May 20, 2023
By Helena Smith


Days before general election, footage emerges showing ‘illegal’ deportation of refugees out of country’s border


Footage shows asylum seekers being forcibly expelled from Greece – video

The Greek government is facing fresh condemnation of its migration policies, days before general elections, after the release of video footage depicting the forcible expulsion of asylum seekers who had sought sanctuary in the country.

Barely 48 hours before polls open, the prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ centre-right administration has been put on the defensive by extraordinary documentation of the illegal “pushback”. The footage, taken by an Austrian activist on Lesbos last month, was brought to light by the New York Times, which published the material on Friday, after being “verified and corroborated” by the US outlet.

“For years, activists and journalists have dug into claims that the Greek authorities are illegally pushing migrants out of Greece’s borders, but hard evidence has been fragmentary,” the paper said in a statement. “The Greek government has consistently denied the mistreatment of migrants. The video may be the most damning evidence yet of its violations of international laws and EU rules governing how asylum seekers must be treated,” it added.

The footage amounts to a shocking indictment of policies the Mitsotakis government has long denied. In evidence that is likely to ignite an excoriating response in other EU capitals, a group of 12 asylum seekers, including children and a six-month-old baby, are filmed being summarily expelled by Hellenic coast guard officers from Lesbos, where they had arrived from Turkey.

The refugees, described as Somalis, Eritreans and Ethiopians, are shown being driven in an “unmarked” white van to a remote spot on the Aegean island before being forced into a high-speed inflatable boat by men whose facial features are concealed by balaclavas. The dinghy then transfers them to a Hellenic coast guard vessel, which proceeds to abandon them on a raft in the middle of the Aegean Sea. There they are left adrift before being picked up by the Turkish coast guard.

“We didn’t expect to survive on that day,” Naima Hassan Aden, a 27-year-old from Somalia who experienced the ordeal with her baby, is quoted as saying. “When they were putting us on the inflatable raft, they did so without any mercy.”

The incident took place on 11 April, according to the publication.

Previously, “pushbacks” have been party captured at sea, where Greek authorities argue they are permitted by law to repulse undocumented migrants attempting to enter the country’s sovereign territory. The expulsion depicted in the video does not take place at sea, or even in disputed waters, but on land inside EU territory, which the asylum seekers had safely reached.

The forcible return of people seeking refuge from war and persecution is in violation of laws adopted by civilised western nations including the 1951 Geneva convention, which outlines the legal protection of refugees and of which Greece, like all EU member states, is a signatory.

The government accepts its migration policy is “tough” but insists it is “fair”, with Mitsotakis, who is seeking a second term in office, hailing the drop in migrant flows and arrival of asylum seekers as a major success of his four-year tenure.

Visiting Lesbos last week on the campaign trail, he jubilantly said he had kept his promise to protect Greece’s land and sea borders. “I am especially proud that I kept my commitment to local communities to solve this issue,” he said. “We implemented a firm but fair policy on migration. We protected our country’s borders both on land and at sea, and reduced irregular arrivals by 90%. We proved that the sea has borders, and those borders can and must be guarded.”

It is unclear to what extent the government’s standing will be affected by the video as the pre-electoral campaign enters its last day. Greeks, by and large, have welcomed the ruling party’s tough stance on migration.

“The Greek public has proven to be very insensitive on this issue,” said Prof Yannis Tsirbas, who teaches political science at the university of Athens. “The government’s stance may be hostile but it has also proven to be a major success.”


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