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Greece accused of illegally deporting asylum seekers

29 May 20200 comments

Greece has been accused of illegally deporting asylum seekers from its islands in the Aegean Sea by putting them in orange rescue rafts and setting them adrift.

A report by the ‘Just Security’ website claims there have been at least 11 incidents since late March of asylum seekers being found by the Turkish Coast Guard drifting in “orange, tent-like inflatable life rafts without motors or propellants and that cannot be steered”.

And advocacy and rights groups claim there have been cases of the Greek Coast Guard intercepting boats of asylum seekers and migrants and pushing them back to Turkish territorial waters in the past.

Reports by German news organisation Deutsche Welle say the incidents involve asylum seekers who arrived by boat on the Greek islands, where they spent several hours in the custody of authorities before being taken to port, placed in the inflatable life rafts, and towed back out to sea.

The new claims come after allegations of a rise in forced deportation and pushbacks by Greek police in recent months along the country’s land border with Turkey. 

In an effort to pressure the EU, Turkish President Recep Erdogan has said he would no longer prevent asylum seekers from leaving the country.

In response, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Greece would turn people back from Greece’s borders. 

Deporting asylum seekers without granting them access to asylum procedures is a violation of both EU and international law.

In response to Turkey’s move in March, Greece stopped processing new asylum applications for one month at the beginning of March. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, that suspension has continued.

Greece’s right-wing government has taken a hard line on migration and asylum since coming to power last July, overhauling the country’s asylum laws and putting legal pressure on aid organisations helping refugees.

More than a million people crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece between 2015 and the beginning of 2016 before the numbers dropped off dramatically following the signing of the EU-Turkey deal in March 2016.

Arrivals in the Greek islands rose slightly last year compared to the previous two years, but were still far less than at the height of the migration crisis.

However, tens of thousands of people are living in overcrowded camps on the islands since 2016, creating a humanitarian crisis which has been worsened by the COVID-9 pandemic.