Three cases of the mass refoulement of refugees in violation of international law are documented in a new report by the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN), an independent network of organizations and associations that monitors human rights violations at the EU’s external borders.
The report shows that these pushbacks, which took place in Evros between May 24 and June 12, 2022, resulted in a total of 206 asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, being unlawfully returned to Turkey, despite the intervention of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) obliging the Greek authorities to allow the refugees access to Greek territory.
The first case took place between May 24 to 27. The Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) and Human Rights 360 (HR360) were made aware that 93 refugees, among them 30 children (some of them unaccompanied), were on a Greek island in the river Evros. Despite informing the authorities and interim measures granted by the ECtHR which obliges the Greek government not to remove the refugees from the country, they were sent back to Turkey.
According to the testimonies of the refugees, the pushback operations involved not only members of the security forces, but also people who hid their features and spoke Arabic. This reinforces the allegations that the Greek authorities use third-country nationals in push back operations, which was also confirmed by an international investigation published in June 2022 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
“This report from the Border Violence Monitoring Network provides an in-depth analysis of the human rights cost of the Greek government’s current policy on migration and asylum,” says the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, in the preface to the BVMN report.
This evidence raises the issue of the violation of international law, as the push back, or refoulement, of refugees, according to the former President of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos, is prohibited by Article 33 of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, also known as the Geneva Convention.
In a state governed by the rule of law, the authorities must refrain from illegally repatriating refugees and migrants from their territory. International law requires that Greece must ensure effective international protection procedures to protect applicants from war, non-democratic regimes and other risks in their countries of origin.
As the UNHCR notes, European law requires that border surveillance measures be implemented in full compliance with human rights and refugee law, including the 1951 Convention, and that states must respect fundamental human rights, such as the right to life and the right to asylum.
Despite the commitments that stem from European and international law, this report presents evidence that the Greek authorities have violated the rule of law, deporting asylum seekers en masse from the country.
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