Istanbul, Turkey – Greece is reportedly using third-country nationals, together with Syrians, Pakistanis and Afghans, in its unlawful pushback operations throughout the land border with Turkey.
In line with stories from rights teams, in addition to interviews performed by Al Jazeera with 4 survivors of unlawful expulsion, the observe has been a scientific a part of Greece’s pushback operations for properly over a yr.
The boys, known as “proxies” and “auxiliary police” in a latest report by Human Rights Watch, seem like chargeable for paddling boats throughout the Evros river, which separates Greece from Turkey, in addition to looking out and typically beating refugees and migrants throughout expulsions.
Tons of of stories collected by rights teams have documented the observe, nonetheless, all proof stays second-hand, since access to the proxies is proscribed.
Subsequently, proof has been supplied by migrants who’ve spoken with the boys throughout their expulsions, and by those that declare to have been supplied the work by police, however turned it down.
Whereas the precise preparations made between police and third-country nationals stay unclear, stories state that the boys do the work in alternate for journey paperwork, in addition to objects similar to telephones and clothes stolen from these pushed again.
Work for asylum
Ali [name changed to protect his identity] advised Al Jazeera that he was supplied the duty by a Greek police officer in December 2020.
The 27-year-old Algerian had been working as a information for a smuggler throughout the Turkey-Greece border and was apprehended by police in Greece earlier than being detained and transported to the Evros river.
He mentioned that, as soon as on the riverside, a police officer took him apart and spoke with him in Turkish.
“He requested me if I needed to work with them for a month, most two months, not for cash however I might get asylum,” Ali mentioned. “He additionally advised me I might take something that was taken from the folks being pushed again.”
When Ali refused the provide, he mentioned the officer beat his legs and ft with a tree department.
“He beat me a lot that I couldn’t stroll,” Ali mentioned, including that he refused as a result of he didn’t wish to declare asylum exterior of regular procedures.
He additionally mentioned he believed he could be anticipated to beat others and would probably witness sexual violence.
Rights teams in Greece and Turkey say they started listening to stories of the involvement of third-country nationals in unlawful pushbacks in about August 2020.
Hope Barker, senior coverage analyst for the Border Violence Monitoring Community (BVMN), an impartial community monitoring rights violations at European Union borders, mentioned this seems to have turn into the “sole means” of working dinghies throughout the Evros river from Greece to Turkey.
Barker mentioned that always the third-country nationals are members of the transit teams and themselves asylum seekers.
She mentioned the BVMN has been unable to confirm the data by way of firsthand testimonies, nonetheless, “it appears to be a well known secret within the Evros area that this observe is going down”.
Aziz Amari, a 22-year-old Tunisian, advised Al Jazeera that he has seen Afghans, Syrians and Pakistani males serving to Greek police to push folks again into Turkey.
Amari mentioned he has been pushed again from Greece 14 instances since October 2020 and has seen these males working with police virtually each time.
Amari mentioned that the boys had been working cleansing within the detention web site the place he was held on a number of events within the Evros area of Greece. He added that these similar males beat him once they had been on the riverside.
“The Afghans had been serving to them [Greek police] to get folks on the boats and drive the boat,” he mentioned. “One of many Syrians mentioned: ‘We now have to’ – that means to hit us.”
Amari mentioned that he was then compelled, half-naked, on to a ship and brought midway throughout the river. From there, he was compelled to swim.
He added that many within the group didn’t know easy methods to swim: “We had to assist them to get throughout … They might die [if we didn’t]. Individuals died on a previous journey.”
Faisal Daqouri 50, an English literature professor from Hassakeh in Syria, mentioned he noticed 4 males who “spoke Arabic” working the boats used to drive folks throughout the Evros river throughout a violent pushback on Could 25 this yr.
“They had been from Syria,” he mentioned, including that he might simply establish their accents, since he, himself, is from Syria.
“They had been getting orders from the Greek officers … [the Syrian men] had tree branches they usually had been beating folks whereas they had been looking out them,” mentioned Daqouri.
He mentioned that he was not overwhelmed by them due to being Syrian. Nonetheless, he acknowledged he was overwhelmed severely by police.
Daqouri reported that about 200 folks from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq had been pushed again alongside him, all carrying solely underwear and shirts, and that girls and younger youngsters had been among the many group.
Reyner Enseñat Sanchez, 38, a health care provider from Havana, Cuba, had by no means been to Turkey earlier than he was expelled in October 2021.
He mentioned he noticed males who “appeared like Arabs” carrying camouflage and balaclavas throughout his expulsion to Turkey, and that the boys had been chargeable for loading folks on to and paddling the boats.
Lack of access to asylum
In line with Cell Information Crew, an NGO supporting asylum seekers in Greece, the observe is linked with restricted access to asylum and rising exploitation of refugees and migrants.
Manon Louis, advocacy officer for Cell Information Crew, mentioned that the obvious promise of journey documentation in alternate for the work demonstrates the “exploitation of weak individuals who can not access safety by way of a protected asylum system”.
Since a pre-registration system through Skype was terminated in November 2021, Louis mentioned that there’s at present “a near-total lack of access to the asylum system on mainland Greece”.
She added that there at the moment are three slim routes to asylum on the Greek mainland, one in all them being to register on the Fylakio Reception and Identification Centre within the Evros area.
A latest report revealed by Cell Information Crew mentioned that 71 p.c of individuals pushed again had been apprehended on this area, “making it an unsafe and unviable choice” to journey there with a purpose to register a declare.
Natalie Gruber, founding father of Josoor, an NGO supporting pushback survivors in Turkey, known as the involvement of third-country nationals in pushbacks “sickening”.
She added that the observe exploits folks’s desperation and is in huge distinction to the reception of Ukrainian refugees: “This proper is totally taken from mainly everybody who’s coming into the nation who will not be Ukrainian, however … those that collaborate within the violation of this proper for everybody else, they get awarded with [asylum].”
Al Jazeera contacted the top of the press workplace on the Ministry of Migration and Asylum in Greece concerning the allegations, and was referred to the ministry’s official response to the Human Rights Watch report, revealed on their web site.
The response refutes the claims and expresses “grave concern and sorrow for the standard of [the HRW] report”.
It additional states that the reported involvement of third-country nationals “look moderately like conflicts and settling of variations amongst smuggling networks”, and that the practices “don’t correspond to the usual working procedures of the Greek authorities and Frontex [the European Border and Coast Guard Agency]”.
A letter from the Hellenic police headquarters, in response to the Human Rights Watch report in April, additionally acknowledged that “normal procedures” are adopted, and that the Hellenic Police maintains “ethos and respect” for the basic rights of third-country nationals.
Martha Roussou, advocacy supervisor for the Worldwide Rescue Committee in Greece, mentioned that the IRC, together with different organisations, has lengthy been calling for an impartial investigation into pushback practices in Greece.
“We predict that the [EU] Fee ought to put strain on Greece to ascertain a very impartial border monitoring mechanism,” she mentioned.
“[They should] examine all stories of pushbacks and violations of the correct to hunt asylum,” Roussou mentioned, including that the present entity charged with investigating stories of pushbacks is the Nationwide Transparency Authority, which, “we don’t assume [is] impartial or knowledgeable sufficient.”
The Particular Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants offered a report [PDF] to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2021, referencing quite a few stories of pushbacks from Greece’s land and sea borders.
This included the “collective expulsion of tens of hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers” from Greece, together with from city areas, detention centres and reception centres.
Among the many suggestions within the report, are to “completely examine” allegations of pushbacks and “set up efficient impartial monitoring mechanisms”.