In Short: Greece has been accused of expelling over 1,000 asylum seekers who have been illegally entering the country through Turkey. Accounts from migrants fleeing conflict and persecution portray a Greek Coast Guard evoking violent measures and taking advantage of international restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The New York Times reported last week that the Greek coast guard has expelled migrants on at least 31 times since March. According to reports, groups have been dropped on rafts or left adrift on their boats with disabled engines on Turkish waters.
Frustrations have been mounting in Greece: The country has been overwhelmed with incoming migrants since the 2015 refugee crisis, when more than a million asylum seekers made their way to Greece through Turkey.
- Both Greece and Turkey are central transit spots for individuals fleeing war and persecution hoping to move across Europe.
As the country continues to deny any wrongdoing, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is pointing the finger back at his Turkish accusers.
- Back in March, Turkey announced that it could no longer uphold its 2016 agreement with the European Union. Under the agreement, the 3.7 million refugees and migrants the country was hosting were prevented from crossing through Tukey and into Europe.
The pandemic may be fueling this illegal operation: Nationwide restrictions on movement into and within Greece meant many were locked down in refugee camps in poor living conditions.
- Reports and witness statements have emerged claiming that migrants arriving in Greece have been led by the Coast Guard under false pretenses and abandoned at sea. Oftentimes individuals have been told that they are being taken to secondary facilities for COVID-19 testing and quarantine.
- According to Human Rights Watch, Greek officers have been deploying violent tactics in forcing migrants outside of their borders, including confiscating and destroying belongings.
- Earlier this month the Greek Coast Guard reported it had fired warning shots in response to a boat travelling from Turkey to Greece. According to the Turkish Coast Guard, the rubber bullets had injured three and resulted in the vessel sinking.
The UN High Commission of Refugees has released a statement pushing for Greece to investigate accusations leveled against mistreatment and denial of migrants.
- The UNHCR is urging states to ensure border restrictions do not violate international human rights and refugee protection standards which guarantee that asylum seekers are not turned away. The agency is also calling for adequate health protection measures, which should include space for a two-week quarantine.
The Bottom Line: While the story continues to develop, it is clear that both Greece and Turkey are feeling overwhelmed by the ongoing movement of migrants and asylum seekers looking to make their way into Europe. The issue has become highly politicised as neither country is willing to bear the responsibility of hosting migrants or take blame for their mistreatment.
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