On 9 March 2023, Solomon and the Spanish newspaper El País published an investigation describing an incident in which, in January 2022, a Cuban couple, Lino Antonio Rojas Morell and Yudith Pérez Álvarez, were forcibly deported by the Greek authorities to Turkey after being relieved of their backpacks, mobile phones and money. Furthermore, the report alleges that two Moroccans were deported back to Turkey on 1 November 2022, again after the removal of their personal belongings.
According to the findings of the investigation, which collected testimonies from eight victims of refoulement and analysed 374 complaints made to organisations and agencies specialising in refugee issues, more than 20,000 asylum seekers have been returned from Greece to Turkey between 2017 and 2022. In fact, the publication states that it is standard practice for police officers to remove personal items and money from asylum seekers before they are returned, with a total value conservatively estimated at over two million euros.
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.
Furthermore, we recall that in February 2022, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi reported that the UNHCR had recorded almost 540 cases of refoulement at the Greek sea and land borders since the beginning of 2020.
In response to questions, the Ministry of Immigration reiterated its commitment to the protection of human rights, but did not give specific explanations as to whether there is an ongoing investigation into the recorded refoulements and what procedure is followed with regard to the money and personal belongings taken from asylum seekers.
What is the problem with the rule of law? In a state governed by the rule of law, the authorities must not participate in the unlawful refoulement of refugees and migrants from their territory.
Rather, in the context of international law, Greece must ensure effective international protection procedures that protect applicants from war, illiberal and undemocratic regimes and other risks in their countries of origin.
As the UNHCR also notes, European law requires that border surveillance measures must be implemented in full compliance with human rights and refugee law, including the 1951 Geneva Convention, while “States must honour their commitments and respect fundamental human rights, such as the right to life and the right to asylum”.
However, this evidence suggests that the Greek authorities engaged in the illegal return of refugees, in violation of international and EU law, as well as confiscating the asylum seekers’ personal belongings and money beforehand.
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