Greece: Situation for migrants and refugees goes from bad to worse


The Greek government is in the midst of an unprecedented crackdown against migrants and refugees already on the Aegean islands, as well as against those who are attempting to reach Greece from Turkey. Deploying police and military forces to the land border with Turkey in an attempt to prevent crossings, Greece has also said it will suspend the possibility to request asylum, a clear breach of EU and international law.

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A good overview of the background to the current situation is provided by Are You Syrious?. In the midst of worsening conditions for refugees on Lesvos, the Greek government announced it would set up closed detention centres (that is, prisons), a move which has been strongly resisted by the local population. See: Lesvos well beyond the brink (this is what we know so far) (link):

"In partnership with Refocus Media Labs, we bring you the most detailed account of violent and sometimes confusing events unfolding at the congested Greek island..."

Since that article was published, the Greek government has announced that it is suspending the asylum process for all new arrivals and is asking for reinforcements via Frontex: Greece freezes asylum applications from illegally entering migrants (Ekathimerini, link):

"Greece will not accept for a month, beginning Sunday, any asylum applications from migrants entering the country illegally and, where possible, will immediately return them to the country they entered from, Greece's government spokesman Stelios Petsas announced Sunday.

The announcement was made at the conclusion of a cabinet meeting on national security.

Greece will also ask the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, also known as Frontex, to engage in a rapid border intervention to protect Greece's borders, which are also EU's borders, Petsas said."

An article in the New York Times (link) highlights that the suspension of asylum procedures is not permitted by EU law and: "International protocols on the protection of refugees, of which Greece is a signatory, also prohibit such policies."

The European Commission - which is formally responsible for ensuring that EU law is correctly enforced - has not so far issued any comment on the situation.

The President of the European Council, former Belgian prime minister Charles Michel, has apparently (link) "been in close contact with [Greek] PM Mitsotakis and [Bulgarian] PM Borissov to follow the migration situation." A press statement issued by the European Council merely notes that: "The EU is actively engaged to uphold the EU-Turkey Statement and to support Greece and Bulgaria to protect the EU’s external borders."

Meanwhile, military forces have been deployed to the land border with Turkey and today (2 March) there will reportedly be:

"military exercises with live ammunition at all border outposts at Kipoi and Kastanies where thousands of migrants and refugees have amassed. The broader area of the 24-hour exercise is where also all migrants crossings are in general."

See: Evros: Greek Army announces exercise with live ammunition on March 2 (Keep Talking Greece, link)

As the Greek government ramps up its 'border security' measures, there have already been reports of violence against those attempting to cross the border:

"On the Turkish side, where thousands were gathering and smugglers were flocking to offer rides, boats and other services, others were less fortunate, and the hazards of attempting the crossing were becoming clear.

One migrant died from the cold overnight, according to other migrants, and others said they were badly beaten by Greek border guards or vigilantes — an assertion that the Greek government denied."

Greece Suspends Asylum as Turkey Opens Gates for Migrants (The New York Times, link)

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