Recent footage shows the European Union’s border force violating the law by helping the Greek Coast Guard block and push back asylum seekers who reached Greek territorial waters instead of rescuing them.
Anadolu Agency examined footage taken by Turkish authorities this June 8 in the Aegean Sea, off Ayvacik in the northwestern Canakkale province.
The footage shows European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX) naval elements along with the Greek Coast Guard violate EU law and regulations by pushing back asylum seekers who reached Greek territorial waters by boat instead of rescuing them.
FRONTEX in effect helps the Greek Coast Guard violate international law.
The footage shows FRONTEX elements stop the asylum seekers’ boat after which Greek Coast Guard elements approach it.
The FRONTEX elements can be seen blocking the boat’s way, after which Greek forces arrive and take apart its fuel tank and unlawfully push the asylum seekers’ boat back into Turkish territorial waters.
NATO elements witness incident
Notably, a German ship patrolling as part of NATO elements in the region seeking to curb irregular migration witnessed the incident.
During the incident, the Turkish Coast Guard decried the situation and told the Greek Coast Guard over the radio that Turkey will bring up the issue at international platforms.
Greek violations draw fire
Greece’s violations of international laws, international maritime law, EU law and regulations, and the 2016 Turkey-EU agreement are being criticized for pushing back asylum seekers either from land or sea, torturing and mistreating asylum seekers, seizing their personal belongings, risking their lives, and even causing their deaths.
It is estimated that over the last three years, more than 70,000 asylum seekers have been pushed back to Turkey by Greece.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), International Organization for Migration (IOM), Council of Europe, European Parliament (EP), and human rights groups have all strongly criticized Greece’s pushbacks and demanded investigations of these incidents.
The European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs has asked Athens to explain the pushbacks.
MEPs have also called for an investigation.
On July 6 Ylva Johansson, the EU commissioner for home affairs, said there are numerous reports of asylum seekers being pushed back by Greece.
“Pushbacks are against EU law. We cannot protect our European borders by violating our values,” she said.
“I request that Greek authorities track down all illegal activities and carry out necessary investigations. Everyone may not be granted asylum, but we must treat everyone in accordance with our values,” she added.
Greek violations with FRONTEX in the media
International media outlets have caught Greece several times pushing back asylum-seekers.
According to Britain’s The Guardian and Dutch website De Correspondent, FRONTEX is no mere spectator to Greek pushbacks but actively helps these illegal activities.
Jens Moller, a Danish staffer with FRONTEX’s Operation Poseidon in the Aegean, confirmed the media claims.
On Danish radio, Moller related an incident when they told Operation Poseidon’s headquarters they had found 33 asylum-seekers seeking to reach Greece’s coast.
He said Poseidon officials ordered them to “put the refugees back in the rubber boat and push them out of the Greek waters.”
They refused the order, said Moller, as it would have endangered their lives.
He said after much resistance, the order was revoked and the asylum seekers were taken to Greece.
Chris Borowski, a FRONTEX spokesperson, told Anadolu Agency that FRONTEX officers are obliged to report human rights violations which they encounter in the field, but they have not gotten any such reports.
“We reject all claims that FRONTEX is involved in pushbacks. FRONTEX resolutely remains committed to implementing border control in the highest standards,” he said.
“Our operations and officers have never been involved in pushbacks that are illegal according to international law,” he added.
*Writing by Fahri Aksut and Davut Demircan in Ankara