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  • Writer's pictureRory O'Keeffe, Koraki

2022 Summary: Pushbacks: the facts, and the realities behind them.

For the last 34 months, the Greek government has chosen, in place of a measured and effective refugee response, to break the law with vicious attacks against, and ejection of, the vast majority of men, women and people seeking safe places to live, learn and work.

In our 2022 summary, we reveal that the numbers of people pushed back are far higher than most people have so far imagined, as well as the manifest and enormous failure of pushbacks even to do what the Greek government wishes.

In contrast to the government’s claims, we show that arrivals to Greece have not fallen, let alone as a result of pushbacks, and we note that while the sheer numbers involved are a shocking revelation of the scale of that failure, they are themselves far less shocking that the reality experienced by every person those numbers ‘represent’.

Finally, we note that the policy is also extremely likely to harm not just Greece’s reputation, but also its entire society: every man, woman and child alive is, because of pushbacks, now at risk of catastrophe.

We can, of course, avoid such a disaster. All we need to do to achieve this is obey the law.

(In the report which follows, all sea arrival numbers are taken from the Greek government’s official updates, the land arrivals data from UNHCR, and the pushback figures from Aegean Boat Report. All other content contained here, including all commentary and analysis, is our own.)

Arrivals and pushbacks, 2022

*These figures must be taken on advisement: see ‘A Note on Numbers’, below.

A Note on Numbers

It is likely that around 70,000 people arrived in Greece in 2022, yet just 16,683 were registered as new arrivals.

Because, for a variety of reasons, no reliable figures exist for land pushbacks, we cannot be clear how many people have actually entered Greece ‘by land’ (across the Evros river, in fact), only to be pushed back. In the absence of concrete data, we have been forced to use ‘zero pushbacks’ in the above table.

We know, for certain, that the number of people pushed back at Evros was absolutely not zero, however.

In fact, it seems likely that, as in the Aegean, at least 7-8 of every ten people who arrive, are being pushed back.

On these grounds, it is likely that at least 20,073 people were pushed back from the Evros border in 2022 (a conservative estimate, of 70 per cent of those who arrived), which would make the ‘Total actual arrivals’ for the year – at the absolute least – 62,890 men, women and children.

This number is interesting because it is far closer than the Greek government’s claims about the number of arrivals, to the number of people who arrived in the last ‘non-Covid’ year on record, 2019: 74,884 men, women and children.

Should the proportion of people pushed back at Evros be 80 per cent, rather than 70 per cent, the number of actual arrivals into Greece would include 30,110 people who arrived at Evros, meaning a total of 72,927 people actually arrived in Greece this year.

Given that large areas of Evros are militarised and so inaccessible to news reporters and monitoring bodies, an 80 per cent push-back rate – known for certain to have been ‘achieved’ in at least four months in the far more accessible and easily-monitored Aegean region – is not just possible, but extremely probable.

Combined with the fact that it is far more likely that a similar number of people arrived in Greece in 2022 to the number who did so in 2019, rather than the government’s claimed less than a quarter as many, it seems eminently reasonable to suggest that in fact roughly 72,927 men, women and children arrived in Greece this year, making the government’s overall rate of illegal pushbacks in 2022 77.13 per cent.

In short, this means that more than three in every four people who reached Greece in search of safe places to live, learn and work – their legal right – were illegally forced out of Greece by the Greek government and its uniformed officers in 2022.

Arrivals and pushbacks, 2019-22

At the start of March 2020, the Greek government enacted its ongoing ‘policy’ of breaking the law by pushing people back from its borders without allowing them to apply for safe places to live, learn and work.

The following table, and the small amount of analysis that follows it, is designed to show the impact of this decision on the numbers of people arriving in Greece and entering the Greek and/or EU asylum system.

As with all such data, the table does not show the impact of one nation breaking – and getting away with breaking – international law: the steady crumbling of the entire international legal system upon which all of our rights rely (and under which we should receive many more rights than we do presently).

Nor does it show the realities of this policy. The fact that men, women and children are being beaten at the Greek borders. That all are stripped of their possessions (and many their clothing). That many are racially and sexually abused by uniformed Greek operatives, that some are killed in the pushbacks process and that all are illegally denied the right to ask for somewhere safe to live, learn and work.

This is not a story of numbers, though the numbers are important. It is a story of what – who – the numbers represent. Men, women and children like you and I, our parents, our grandparents, our partners, children, grandchildren, colleagues and friends.

And make no mistake: if the Greek or any other government strips an Afghan grandmother, a Somali teen or a Turkish child of their legal and human rights, they have already also stripped them from you: rights belong to us all because we exist, they are not there to be ‘granted’ at the whim of one or more politicians. Once one person loses them, we all do.

*Caution must also be paid here, as outlined below in Notes – land pushbacks, the realities hidden by the numbers and why 2019?

Notes – land pushbacks, the realities hidden by the numbers and why 2019?

We must note here that we chose 2019 because it was the final full year before the Greek government’s decision to carry out pushbacks as its standard response to people arriving in the hope of finding safe, decent places to live, learn and work.

This does not mean that we believe there were zero pushbacks in 2019 or the first two months of 2020. In fact, some people were pushed back though the majority were pushed back by the Turkish Coastguard, a practice demanded in the EU-Turkey Statement, and which continues to this day.

But we are satisfied that the number of people pushed back after arriving in Greece was, in 2019, small enough to be of little statistical, though certainly a great deal of legal and personal, import. This is a study of what happened when, rather than pushbacks happening every so often (unacceptable in and of itself) they were used by the Greek government as its main response to people arriving: the shredding of law and human rights to keep foreign people from entering Greece.

We also included 2019 because it was the last year before the COVID pandemic began, and as such it is reasonable to compare it with the COVID years 2020-21, as well as to last year, the first since the ‘end’ of the pandemic (or at least the restrictions enacted to reduce its spread).

As we have already noted, the ‘actual’ number of arrivals into Greece in 2022 – based on an entirely plausible, indeed probable, pushback rate of 70-80 per cent of people who arrive at the Evros border, suggests that the two ‘non-COVID’ years 2019 and 2022 have a great deal in common: in 2019, 74,884 people arrived in Greece and were registered as having done so.

In 2022, despite the Greek government illegally pushing back (and beating, robbing, in some cases abusing and in a few killing) the vast majority of those who arrived at the Greek borders, and registering just 16,683 people as new arrivals, the actual number of men, women and children who entered Greece (‘corrected’ to include a rate of 70-80 per cent of people who arrived at the Evros border being pushed back) was between 63,040 and 72,927.

In the same way, we can estimate that from 1 March to 31 December 2020, despite the Greek government registering just 8,842 people as new arrivals, the real figure is likely to be between 34,813 and 42,928 men, women and children, while in 2021, when the government claimed 8,261 people arrived, the true figure is likely to have been between 39,710 and 47,534 (see below for a ‘corrected’ table containing these figures).

The point of interest here – apart from the barbaric treatment of tens of thousands of men, women and children, stripped of their rights as we all have been by the current Greek government’s campaign (which, we should note, has not been opposed by the EU) – is that the Greek government campaigned on the idea that it would reduce the number of people coming to Greece.

It has not, we can now see by comparing the last four years of people arriving at Greece’s borders, done this. Instead, it has relied upon the global pandemic to reduce arrivals by less than 50 per cent, and on a policy of abject and illegal violence and aggression against ordinary men, women and children, to prevent as many people as possible from entering its and/or the EU’s asylum system.

This, sadly, is the reality hidden by the government’s ‘updates’ on arrivals into Greece.

As an illustration of what is likely to be the truth of the Greek government’s barbarism at its borders – and please note that ‘likely’ includes the very real possibility that what we have discussed here is an underestimate – we present the following table.

Figures ‘justified’ to include likely Evros pushbacks rate

That is, in the two years and ten months since 1 March 2022, the Greek government illegally pushed back a minimum of 103,628 men, women and children, and registered as new arrivals to the country just 33,786: a pushback rate of 75.4 per cent. Slightly more than three in every four people to have arrived at the Greek border have been illegally pushed away, most of them beaten, all robbed of their possessions, some abused and some even killed.

If the rate of pushbacks at the Evros border is a perfectly plausible 80 per cent (it could easily be more) the number of people beaten, stripped, abused, robbed from and stripped of their legal and human rights in this period was 129,603, a pushback rate of 79.8 per cent, or very nearly four in every five people.

This is crime – violent and vicious crime, seemingly-motivated by prejudice and race – on an enormous scale. Had an individual carried out robbery, assault, denial of human rights, and beating – even disregarding those killed and those abused while being pushed back – would have been arrested and jailed for decades.

We cannot simply stand by and allow this to continue simply because it is the Greek government and EU who are carrying out these barbaric crimes. If we do, then who are we. What do we stand for?

Postscript: a final reason pushbacks must end

Of course, those who support Nea Dimokratia may ask: why does it matter? As long as we keep people out, who cares whether they are dissuaded from travelling, or simply stopped and forced out of Greece?

The answer may not be what one expects.

Because while it is certainly illegal to carry out pushbacks, while every pushback is in itself stripping not just those who arrive in Greece but every single man, woman and child on the planet of their most fundamental and important human right – the right to live, and live in safety –while to deny that safety, rob and beat, and in some cases kill, those who travel to find places to live, learn and work without violence or persecution is immoral, there is also another consideration: what is this policy doing to Greece’s future?

We may first of all note that people granted asylum in Greece (or any other state) have repeatedly proven themselves to be an asset to their new home, new community and new country: they and their children contribute socially, culturally, in sport, medicine, by carrying out essential services like nursing, cleaning our streets, keeping our shops well-stocked, and making sure our communities are safe, thriving places to live, learn and work. They contribute economically, paying far more into their new societies than they ever take out.

We must also note that Greece is facing a well-documented demographic catastrophe, one highlighted in late May last year by the Hellenic Foundation for Research and Innovation (HFRI) at Athens’ French Institute, which warned that at the current rate of population change, there may no longer be enough people of working age in Greece in 30-50 years to provide for the number of retired people in the country.

This would, of course, lead to a collapse in Greece’s social care, health services, pension provision and many other areas besides.

This reality is not merely the speculation of academic researchers. On Tuesday 7 June 2022, speaking at the Demographics: the big challenge conference, Kiriakos Mitsotakis, Greece’s Prime Minister and as such the man who has overall responsibility for the pushing-back of thousands of men, women and children, stated that Greece requires people to enter from outside to keep the country afloat.

Yet he has spent the last 34 months viciously preventing precisely the people Greece needs, from entering the country. It is not ‘just’ criminal and immoral: it is insane.

Nor is even this the ‘final’ reason. Because the pushbacks policy is not just failing to avoid the most negative future for Greece, it is also creating a dark future for the state.

The fact is, pushbacks do not work. They do not prevent people from attempting to enter, as we have already shown – and we must note that more people are travelling now than did so last year: from Sunday 1 to Thursday 17 January this year, 913 people had been registered as arrivals on the Aegean islands. Just 134 people did so in the same period of 2022, 44 in 2021, and 846 in 2019.

Aegean Boat Report notes that 1,201 people have been pushed back since 1 January 2023.

Pushbacks are simply not stopping people from travelling, but even more than that, they do not in fact prevent people from entering Greece: instead, they ensure they do so in the most chaotic and dangerous way possible.

The fact that people are entering Greece and not registering their presence here is not just a matter of common-sense – of course people will travel if they need to find safe places to live, and of course they will attempt to avoid detection if they expect to be beaten, stripped of their possessions and put in danger of death by the Greek authorities – it is proven by the people we find dead who have been travelling into and possibly across Greece, and by the continuing deaths on Greek roads of people attempting to avoid capture while crossing Greece to enter other countries (11 people were killed in such chases in the three weeks to 24 June 2022 alone).

We cannot possibly know how many people have entered Greece undetected, but we can surely conclude that not all who have done so have died.

What we all want is a sensible border policy, under which not only is the law obeyed (and so people are allowed to enter to apply for asylum) but also, we have order and information. We need a system under which we know how many people have entered Greece and the wider EU, and where they are while their asylum application is considered.

The Greek government’s pushbacks fail to prevent people from entering, and simultaneously force those who do manage to enter to feel they must ‘disappear’ or face extreme violence and lose their possessions, before being forced away from the safety they seek and are entitled to.

So not only is the law broken, not only is every human instinct towards kindness and decency denied, and not only do we lose the enormous (and at present necessary) benefits that these men, women and children would bring, we also now do not know how many people are in Greece seeking to escape persecution.

More than that, while the vast majority of people who enter Greece have little wish to stay here, those who do so ‘in secret’ will simply never be allowed a legal job. But they will need an income, because they will need to live somewhere, and buy food for themselves and their families. The simplest way to gain money if one is not allowed to work or to receive social security assistance is, sadly, crime.

The Greek government’s policy is, by its very nature, forcing people into the ‘black market’ economy.

Not only is this a waste of talent and benefits to Greece and all its people, it is also laying the groundwork for a future in which Greek people become increasingly suspicious of and negative about people who look or sound different from them.

The risk of allowing this to continue is that the result is likely to be violence. In many places, for long periods of time.

The government’s pushbacks run the very real risk of delivering social breakdown not just due to the country’s already progressing demographic crisis, but also due to a catastrophic and violent racist response resulting from the paranoia the pushbacks and their results inspires.

It is possible that some people may consider that stark possibility and wish, therefore, to make greater efforts to prevent people entering Greece, and push back those who do.

But we remind you: not only does that policy fail even to keep people from entering, it is also unnecessary: if people are allowed to enter Greece ‘regularly’, they do not need to hide themselves, and if they do not need to hide themselves, they have no requirement to commit crimes. Instead, they will be able to get regular jobs, and contribute meaningfully to the societies they become a part of.

The alternative genuinely seems to be that the current Greek government breaks the law, attacks innocent people, gains Greece a reputation as a barbarous state of savages, and fails even to prevent people from entering, stirring instead a seething pot of anger, suspicion and racism, which would be likely to spill into violence and chaotic social disorder just when Kiriakos Mitsotakis, Notis Mitarachis and their colleagues are enjoying their extremely comfortable retirements, basking in the afterglow of the power they have abused and misused.

They will, perhaps, be able to watch from their palaces, while the end-game started by their policies – the destruction of what remains of Greek society – plays out.

We can avoid this. The current government, or an alternative, can help ensure this catastrophe does not happen.

All we need to do is follow the law, and run an ordered system under which we can be clear who enters the country, and we can make sensible decisions about their rights to asylum here and in the wider EU.

At that point, we can be sure that we live in a decent state run by human beings, as well as of who is here. If we ditch the failed, illegal, immoral and barbarian pushbacks policy of the last 34 months, by taking the simplest of steps, we will benefit from new arrivals to Greece’s – as well as our own – culture, ideas, humour, effort and work.


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