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  • Writer's pictureRory O'Keeffe, Koraki

Caretaker government breaks, misleads regarding, refugee law

Greece's caretaker government has taken up the reins of its predecessor by working on walls it intends to use to illegally prevent people entering Greece in their search for safe places to live, learn and work.

Its Prime Minister Ioannis Sharma has also made some fundamental mistakes in his presentation of refugee law and how it works. We are happy to clear this misunderstanding up, and to explain how – if this is really anyone's aim – to end 'people smuggling'.

(The following was intended for publication last week, but the Pylos catastrophe of course took priority over it. As the points within are still relevant, however, and will be even when the new government is elected, we are publishing now. For more information on our daily and weekly people movement and politics updates, contact us here)

The Greek caretaker government, in post until the next Greek general elections on Sunday 25 June 2023, has shown its disregard for international law and human rights by working on walls in the Evros region.

It is not illegal to build a wall, but it absolutely is to use one to prevent people from applying for asylum.

The walls are being built on an 11km stretch from Kastanies to Vyssa, for 28km from Psathades to Ferres, and for 35km from Kornofolia to Psathades.

The walls are being erected at points where the river Evros is easiest to cross at present, an openly hostile and legally-dubious attempt to stop all new arrivals from entering Greece.

The country’s acting Prime Minister Ioannis Sharma, said:

Thanks to the government of the Turkish Republic because, as we can see, it is cooperating with the Greek government to deal with the scourge of democratic societies that characterises the ruthless exploitation of individuals from traffickers.

Those who request asylum must use the statutory entry gates in Greece. From there on, any entry that is not made from there creates a question of regularity and what we owe is to make the necessary efforts.

Briefly, because the statement deserves little more, people entering Greece to apply for asylum are not being trafficked.

Some certainly have paid people ‘smugglers’ (although…), but trafficking is a very different activity, and to characterise both as the same is either to accidentally play down the seriousness of people trafficking, or to deliberately misrepresent the realities of what people ’smuggling’ is, what it is for, and why at present it is so lucrative.

Which leads us to the idea that people who wish to claim asylum in Greece ‘must ask to do so at the entry gates’.

First, that isn’t the law. A person is entitled to enter a country to request asylum as long as they do so ‘at the first available opportunity’. That absolutely is not the same as ‘one must ask for asylum at a specific geographical location to be decided by a government, and if this is not done they can be expelled from the country’.

Second, most people who come to Greece do not wish to apply for asylum here. They wish to travel further into the EU to apply there. This is their legal and human right.

They are prevented from doing so by a rule the Greek government and EU are pretending is acceptable, that anyone who enters Greece must ask for asylum in Greece, or be denied access. But people are legally allowed to cross borders to seek asylum.

Third, the Greek government has an astonishing and sickening record of pushing people back from its borders, often including beating, stealing from, and sexually assaulting them at the same time. Requiring people who do not wish to be granted asylum in Greece to negotiate with thieves, thugs and purveyors of sexual violence is an insane and unacceptable demand or expectation, just as it is unacceptable and absurd that the Greek government chooses such people to be its 'public face'.

Fourth, the entire focus and point of the illegal EU-Turkey deal is that people are absolutely not allowed to reach ‘the entrance gates’ and that if they do so, they are likely to be forced back into Türkiye.

These reasons are why people turn to ‘smugglers’.

The entire border system is designed to ensure that people who wish to find safe places to live, learn and work are not allowed to do so, by preventing them from travelling across Greece, preventing them from entering Greece, preventing them even from reaching Greece and if they do, ensuring they are deported to Türkiye.

It is an exercise in illegality and immorality. It must end.

If anyone is serious about ending people ‘smuggling’, they must instead open safe routes to countries across the EU, which are accessible to all, end violent (and all other) pushbacks at the Greek borders, and end all deals with third countries which strip men, women and children of their legal and human rights to travel to seek safe places to live, learn and work.

This will end people ‘smuggling’ as a lucrative activity at a stroke. Until it is done, governments – Greek and others – and the EU, not those who need to travel and are prevented from doing so by ‘regular’ means, are entirely responsible for the success of the ‘smuggling’ model.


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