Rory O'Keeffe, Koraki
Concerning claims from Evros border
The Greek government and police have chosen to release a claim about people crossing the border with a 24-hour delay: there are a number of questions to be answered, not least about the Greek government’s aggressive response.
The Greek government and Greek police have issued a claim that 92 people were stripped naked and beaten by the Turkish police and/or border authority, and sent in boats across the Evros River.
The claim is concerning in a number of ways.
It was first issued in a press release by the Greek Police yesterday (Saturday 15 October 2022) morning.
The release showed the police’s usual regard for the people it says had been treated terribly: its headline read: ‘Illegal entry of 92 illegal immigrants into the country.’
It is not illegal to enter a country to seek asylum. Nor is it illegal to enter a country if – as the police and Greek government both claim – they have been forced there from another country by that country’s government.
But there are so many other concerns and problems.
The police press release said:
‘On 10-14-2022 in the morning, in the Feron district of Alexandroupolis, police officers of the Feron Border Guard Department found ninety-two (92) illegal immigrants without clothes and some of them with physical injuries. From the investigation of Greek police and Frontex officials, it was established that they were pushed into Greek territory, in plastic boats from Turkey to Greece through the river Evros.
‘All the clothing - feeding and first aid needs of the above persons were immediately covered by the Greek Authorities.’
Now. We are going to address what actually happened here (the truth is, we do not know and this should concern us for a number of reasons).
But we should be clear: the Greek police waited 24 hours to release this.
And the timing is important.
Because the Greek government is (or at the very least should be) under extraordinary pressure following the release of the OLAF report on Thursday (13 October 2022: not by the EU Commission, which should have happened in February this year, when it was issued, but by the German newspaper Speigel), which showed the Greek government has been carrying out pushbacks in direct contravention of international law, for almost three years (33 months).
The majority of coverage regarding the report came on Friday (14 October 2022) and this was when the Greek Maritime Ministry issued its delusional and delirious response, and Migration Minister Notis Mitarachis appeared in a hagiographic piece on CNN Greece.
We must also note that the Greek authorities’ standard response to people arriving at the Evros border is to push them back. It has said as much, such as on Saturday 10 September this year, when Greece’s Citizens’ Protection Minister Takis Theodorikakos said the government had prevented 40,000 people entering Greece in August alone, and 150,000 people in 2022 up to Wednesday 31 August.
So, it would be interesting to find out whether, in the 24 hours it took the Greek police and government to decide to issue this release, they discussed whether to rescue these people, and the undeniable good fortune for both, that this incident took place just when they desperately needed an event to distract from the OLAF report.
We do not say that did happen, but they did need something, they do not rescue people at Evros as a rule, and the timing was exceptionally fortunate for them.
As for what the police allege, we can certainly say that there is evidence that the Turkish government has ‘pushed forward’ people from its territory.
Some people, including those who the Greek government pushed back at least three times, and killed four of including Maria, a five-year-old Syrian girl, have said that they were told by the Turkish police that they must leave or be forced into Syria, where they would be tortured and possibly killed.
So, although we cannot know the precise circumstances which led to these 92 people being on the Greek side of the Evros (for example, are they people who have been pushed back from Greece several times?), it is reasonable to suggest that they may have been forced from Türkiye.
The nakedness, however, is something else.
Because the examples we do have of people arriving in Greece being stripped naked have all, without exception, happened in Greece: that is, when people arrive, and before they are pushed back, they are stripped naked by or at the demand of Greek authorities.
In some cases they are allowed to put on clothing again (though generally not their own, and sometimes only underwear), as in the case of ‘H.T.’, a Turkish woman pushed back by the Greek authorities in November 2021; in others forced to undress and then given 30 seconds to redress for the amusement of Greek officers; or left naked and forced back, as was the case when Greek authorities killed 19 people by stripping them naked, forcing them back across the river, and leaving them to freeze to death on Wednesday 2 February this year.
We would like to know precisely when these 92 people, who are already unusual for having been rescued at all by the Greek authorities, were in fact stripped naked.
Did this happen in Türkiye, as the Greek authorities claim, or in Greece where it is a common practice to strip new arrivals naked?
The only way we could realistically find out is if the Greek authorities allowed us to speak directly to any of the 92 people who wanted to talk about what happened. Until then, the grim reality is that those authorities’ treatment of men, women and children arriving in Greece has been so consistently abominable that there is at least significant suspicion surrounding this part of this incident. As a result, without speaking to them, we do not know what happened.
The Greek Citizens’ Protection and Migration ministries have, in any case, used the event to characterise themselves as heroic rescuers of people in need, though in a statement on Twitter, Migration Minister Notis Mitarachis said he hoped ‘Türkiye will close its borders for good.’
Which really is an unusual ‘take’ from this whole situation.
If what Mitarachis et al say is true – even if only a part of it is (and we are certainly willing to accept that part of it is) – these people have been treated despicably by the Turkish government Their welfare is paramount.
But not for Mitarachis, who at the same time as calling the Turkish government ‘a shame for civilisation’, is calling for it to illegally hold these people within its borders. Presumably to mistreat them there.
This inhumanity is what led Mitarachis to set in place policies OLAF confirms the Greek government is carrying out, under which people are being killed. His interest seems not to be in the people and their welfare, but in ensuring these people do not come to Greece.
Of course, if people are being mistreated by the Turkish government, this means that Türkiye is not, as Mitarachis claims, a ‘safe state’, and that not only should the Greek government allow them in to apply for asylum (that is, it should not push them back), as is its legal responsibility, it should also actually grant them asylum.
Alongside his comment, Mitarachis published a photo of some of the naked people. It is far from clear that they consented to being photographed, still less to having that photo published on Twitter.
And here is a major part of the problem: wherever they were stripped of their clothing, the reality is that regardless of the Turkish government’s own crimes, we have here in Greece a government and border system which not only regularly removes clothes from the backs of new arrivals in the country, but also strips them of their humanity.
Even within a condemnation of an alleged inhuman act by the Turkish authorities, the Greek Migration Minister shows that he cares zero for these people. That he does not truly regard them as people at all.
This is why the OLAF findings are what they are. It is why we call so regularly for a change in policy, and a change in the leadership of Mitarachis’ Ministry.
It degrades not only these new arrivals to the country, but every person in Greece, to be forced to suffer this behaviour by the country’s government.
We await developments on this case, and a response from Mitarachis and his colleagues on the OLAF report.