20 November 2020
In the face of well-founded accusations from NGOs and journalists, the Greek government has continuously and vehemently denied that its officials engage in pushbacks at the borders. Now the Council of Europe's anti-torture committee (CPT) has documented the practice and it also demanding that it halt - but the Greek government is sticking to the same line.
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On pushbacks, the CPT say in their report (amongst other things) that:
"The evidence supporting the case that migrants are pushed back across the Evros River to Turkey after having been detained for a number of hours, without benefiting from any of the fundamental guarantees, by Greek officers operating in an official capacity is credible. The onus is now upon the Greek authorities to ensure that this practice ends once and for all, and that any officers (police or military) operating outside of official command structures are held to account and sanctioned accordingly." (emphasis added)
The Greek government's response says:
"The alleged practice of military and police officers operating outside the official administrative facilities and secretly assisting in carrying out supposed push backs to the border is unsubstantiated and completely wrong. No complaint or evidence has come to our knowledge about this."
If nothing else, the Greek government is consistent in its claims that there is simply no way its officials could be involved in pushbacks.
However, it should be noted that the response, produced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), comments on only one of two situations raised by the CPT.
The CPT refers to "Greek officials operating in an official capacity" conducting pushbacks, as well as "officers (police or military) operating outside of official command structures"; in its response, the MFA has chosen to refer only to the latter.
The CPT's report also demonstrates that bad excuses are not simply the reserve of the MFA and other Greek ministries (emphasis added):
"55. A few of the persons met during the March 2020 visit alleged that they had initially been detained with other migrants, including families, who had subsequently been sent back across the river to Turkey. These persons described having been held together with many other people for a number of hours in a facility, the layout of which corresponded to that of the Poros detention facility visited by the delegation. Indeed, the Greek authorities confirmed to the CPT’s delegation that this facility had indeed been used for holding migrants for several hours before taking them to Feres or Soufli Police and Border Guard Stations.
However, as the Hellenic Police did not keep any record of the persons who had been held at the Poros detention facility, it was not possible to trace the location to which these persons had been transferred. Records at Feres and Soufli did not state whether they had been held at Poros or not.
The CPT is not convinced by the explanation provided to its delegation that the details of all persons taken to Poros were recorded upon entry to the facility and that at the end of each day, the form containing the information on these persons was simply thrown away."
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