Europe’s highest human rights organization has expressed “deep concern” over reports that Greece is illegally forcing migrants arriving from Turkey to go back.
Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, blasted Athens for “simply dismissing the allegations and ignoring “the overwhelming body of evidence that has been presented in recent years.”
Mijatović in her letter called on the Greek government “to put an end to these practices and to ensure that independent and effective investigations are carried out.”
Human rights groups have over the past years accused Greece of engaging in so-called pushbacks, meaning that Greek officials have been actively preventing asylum seekers from entering the country while also forcing people who have made it into Greece to secretly return to Turkey.
Greece has denied it carries out summary deportations
A senior European Union official, however, said the bloc is weighing an urgent response to the allegations.
“This is an area of great concern. And I can assure you that this is something that I discussed intensively with the Greek government and the Greek authorities,” EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said Wednesday by video link at a conference organized in Athens.
“We would like to put in place an independent monitoring mechanism to make sure that there is an independent monitoring of these aspects.”
Mijatović also said there had been an increase in “reported instances in which migrants who have reached the Eastern Aegean islands from Turkey by boat, and have sometimes even been registered as asylum-seekers, have been embarked on life-rafts by Greek officers and pushed back to Turkish waters.”
Greece has been at the forefront of Europe’s immigration crisis which began in 2015 and saw over a million refugees and migrants flee wars in the Middle East in the hopes of finding a better life in Western countries.
Even though the number of refugees going to Europe has dropped drastically, tensions with Turkey over various issues prompted Turkish authorities to open the land border to thousands of migrants who headed towards Greece.
In reaction, Athens closed down the northeastern land border with Turkey and tightened patrols at sea, with the help of the European Union’s Frontex border agency. Fronted also stands accused of having a hand in the alleged pushbacks.
Turkey reached an agreement with the EU in 2016 to stop migrants leaving its shores for the Greek islands in return for EU funding. The Council of Europe is not an EU institution.
Mijatović also urged Greece to improve living conditions at reception centers for asylum-seekers on the eastern Aegean Sea islands, which see most of the arrivals from Turkey.