New report by Mare Liberum documents 321 migrant pushbacks in the Aegean Sea last year
CLOSE to 10,000 people were forcibly pushed back across the Aegean Sea to Turkey last year by the Greek coastguard and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), according to a human rights monitoring organisation.
Mare Liberum, a German NGO which, until recently, monitored migrant and refugee crossings between Turkey and Greece using a ship of the same name, published a report today showing an “unprecedented escalation” of human rights violations in the Aegean Sea last year.
Between March and December, the Greek and EU authorities were responsible for 321 pushbacks involving 9,798 people, the report says.
This information, the report’s authors say, was gathered from witness testimonies and analysis of cases highlighted by the Turkish coastguard and other NGOs in the area, such as Alarm Phone and Aegean Boat Report.
The report documents cases of migrants picked up by the Greek coastguards and put in life rafts before being pushed back towards the Turkish coast.
Others involved masked men boarding migrant boats and attacking them. Some of the victims were forced back to Turkey after reaching Greek soil, denying them their right to apply for asylum.
“These pushbacks are not isolated or extreme instances of European deterrence, but rather the current and everyday ‘modus operandi’ at the EU’s external border,” warned Paul Hanewinkel, one of the report’s authors.
“Pushbacks can only be understood as part of an inhumane and deadly policy of deterrence that is visible far beyond the borders of the Aegean Sea,” Mr Hanewinkel said.
“For these brutal pushbacks to stop, we call for independent control instances, the clarification of all previous cases and the abolition of Frontex, an agency which deliberately disregards the rights of refugees.
“We demand that all authorities involved in pushbacks are held accountable on a national and international level.”
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) called on the EU and its Member States yesterday to “take urgent action to end pushbacks, collective expulsions, and the use of violence against migrants and refugees, including children, at the EU’s external land and maritime borders.”
The IOM said it “continues to receive documented reports of human rights violations and breaches of international law.”
It added that it’s “direct interactions, with migrants – including during the delivery of assistance –, as well as various testimonies and photographs shared by NGOs and the media, confirm the level of brutality they were subjected to before being pushed back across maritime and land borders.”
Spanish NGO Open Arms posted a video on Twitter yesterday filmed from the bridge of its eponymous ship of a Libyan Coastguard ship blasting across the sea.
“Today we witnessed how a Maltese military aircraft alerted about 2 boats in danger, which shortly after were intercepted and captured by a Libyan patrol boat, to be returned to hell,” Open Arms wrote above the video.
Sea Watch’s reconnaissance aircraft, Moonbird, also witnessed a Maltese aircraft assist the Libyan Coastguard twice yesterday.
“The so-called Libyan Coast Guard intercepted the [first] boat with [around] 110 people on board and was then directed by an Armed Forces Malta aircraft to the [second] boat – again, European actors were involved in illegal actions in the Med,” Sea Watch said.
In response to Mare Liberum’s allegations, Frontex spokesman Chris Borowski told The Civil Fleet today:
“Frontex is determined to uphold the highest standards of border control within our operation. Our officers are bound by the code of conduct that Frontex developed after consultation of our consultative forum.
“This code of conduct includes a paragraph specifically related to the prevention of refoulement and the upholding of human rights, all in line with the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.
“We are fully committed to protecting fundamental rights, and indeed we have an independent fundamental rights officer, whose task is to oversee the respect of fundamental rights in all our operations.
“Frontex has completed two stages of the inquiry into recent media allegations. An internal inquiry concluded that there was no evidence of a direct or indirect participation of Frontex staff or officers deployed in Frontex operations in alleged “pushbacks” in the Aegean Sea.
“A preliminary report issued by a working group within the Frontex management board found no evidence of any violations of fundamental rights in eight incidents in question. It is still studying five other incidents.
“It is important to note that the management board oversees the activities of Frontex and consists of representatives of EU member states, Schengen-associated countries and the European Commission.
“Frontex is working closely with the working group to look into these incidents and to upgrade our reporting mechanism to make sure no possible violation of fundamental rights goes unreported.”
Asked if it wished to respond to the allegations made against it, the Greek coastguard initially said: “For an answer of your request, you have to contact the Frontex press office.”
The Civil Fleet replied that it had already contacted Frontex and added that since the report mostly concerns the Greek coastguard, wouldn’t it like to use the right to reply to these quite serious allegations?
The Greek coastguard said The Civil Fleet should contact another email address “that is the responsible service for foreign journalists in Greece.”
We are still waiting for what is presumably the press team at the Greek foreign office to reply.
Top image shows the Mare Liberum at sea [Photo by Selene Ena Magnolia]