Rory O'Keeffe, Koraki
European Commission - stop funding the Greek government
1 June 2021
Head of Unit
Migration Management Support
Directorate C: Migration, Protection and Visa
European Commission Directorate General for Migration and Home Affairs
Dear Ms Boulehouat,
Thank you for your letter (pasted below) of 3 May 2021. We appreciated you responding and read with interest what you had to say.
We remain concerned, however. It is hard to be certain whether the Greek government is simply not being entirely honest with you, but there are some significant points we hope will help ensure you are appropriately informed about its plans, and the wider situation here.
In your letter’s first paragraph, you say:
‘In September 2020, the Commission established a dedicated Taskforce which, together with the Greek authorities, is working as a priority on a joint pilot to improve the situation on Lesvos by better managing migration and asylum processes and setting up new, fully up-to-standard reception facilities on the island in 2021. As regards the new Multi-Purpose Reception and Identification Centres (MPRICs) which will replace the existing centres on the islands, the Greek authorities have confirmed that the residents of the new MPRICs will be allowed to enter and exit at will, while the MPRICs will be constructed fully in line with the relevant EU acquis and standards.’
This is reassuring to hear. Genuinely. We believe in the European Union’s view that it can be a protector and promoter of international law and human rights – even if we did not, we have few other political blocs or countries to which to turn in an international system which is increasingly closed, negative, and in most cases actively aggressive and spiteful in its dealings with refugees and other people travelling to find new places to live.
But we feel we must inform you, the Directorate for Migration, Protection and Visa, the EU Commission and the wider European Union, that when you say ‘the Greek authorities have confirmed that the residents of the new MPRICs will be allowed to enter and exit at will, while the MPRICs will be constructed fully in line with the relevant EU acquis and standards’ this directly contradicts what the Greek government says, in private and in public, about these centres.
In fact, the Greek government has repeatedly stated, in media interviews, in parliament and in public speeches that the camps will be ‘closed’: that is all movement in and out of the camps will be restricted, including that of the men, women and children who arrive in the EU looking for a safe place to live.
Its ‘National Migration Strategy 2020-21’ is an 18-page document describing the five camps planned for the Aegean Islands. Seven pages are ‘background’ and do not specifically mention the camps at all, but in the other 11, the document uses the term ‘closed’ to describe the camps 18 times.
Of course, as we have already discussed, EU Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs Ylva Johansson specifically and publicly stated in September 2020 that the EU will not fund closed camps. Yet these camps, described as precisely that by the government of the EU member state in which they are being built, are being funded by the EU, which has already agreed to spend €283m on them.
The proposals included for the camps in the ‘Strategy’ include:
> double military-grade walls
> restricted entrance and exit times (8am-8pm: itself a questionable suggestion: why should people be banned from going outside at any time of day or night? Under what possible justification? This is a mark of a closed camp)
> a CCTV system and video monitors
> drone flights over the ‘camps’
> camera-monitored perimeter alarms
> control gates with metal detectors and x-ray devices
> a system to broadcast announcements from loudspeakers
> a control centre for the camps at the ministry’s HQ
This will cost €33m, which the Commission has also agreed to pay.
We should also note that the Greek government is building concrete walls around, and setting up drone patrols and increased surveillance at 25 camps on the Greek mainland, converting these sites – already isolated ghettoes – into ‘closed camps’, effectively prisons for people who have committed no crime.
Surely the European Union does not stand for the illegal detention of men, women – and children – who have committed no crime?
Your next paragraph states:
‘Concerning allegations of inappropriate use of force by law enforcement officials at the border, these need to be followed up by the national authorities, including through credible investigations. The Commission is not competent to investigate individual allegations on pushbacks and has repeatedly requested the Greek authorities to carry out relevant investigations.’
Once again, it is good to hear that the European Commission is attempting to encourage the Greek government to stop illegally pushing men, women and children back from its borders, including beating and stealing possessions from them.
But once again, we must note that this is simply not having any effect.
In 2020, Greece illegally pushed back at least 14,324 people – 94.9 per cent as many as the 15,087 men, women and children it registered as new arrivals that year. From 1 January to 19 May 2021, it registered 2,786 people as having arrived: from 1 January to 30 April 2021, it had illegally pushed back at least 3,286 men, women and children: 18 per cent more people (118 per cent) than it registered as new arrivals.
Despite repeated requests, by the EU Commission, as you say, as well as the Council of Europe, UNHCR, international and Greek non-governmental organisations, and by the Greek Ombudsman (click here for the Ombudsman’s report), the Greek government has still failed to investigate or hear a single case relating to illegal pushbacks.
Please do not mistake our intentions here. We do not expect or request that the EU Commission should ‘investigate individual allegations on pushbacks’. But we note with concern that you and several other international and national bodies have asked the Greek government to do so, and it has so far simply failed to comply with any and all such requests.
And we must note that the European Commission is funding the Greek government’s refugee ‘response’.
We must request that, given the ongoing shocking, illegal and unacceptable behaviour by the Greek government towards men, women and children who are attempting to use their right to live, learn and work in safety, you could perhaps at least suspend further payments to the Greek government until these cases – cases the Commission itself wants to be investigated – are taken seriously and heard by the Greek government?
Once again, we believe in the EU’s commitment to international law and human rights.
At present, there is clear evidence that Greece, an EU member state, is breaking international law, denying people their human rights and is already carrying out plans to imprison innocent men, women and children in closed camps all over the Aegean islands and Greek mainland.
This is being funded – at least in part – by the EU Commission.
Please suspend such payments at least until investigations are carried out into this unacceptable activity.
Once again, many thanks for your reply, as well as for reading.
We hope we may speak again,
Koraki, and other concerned citizens from Greece and the wider EU.
DIRECTORATE-GENERAL FOR MIGRATION AND HOME AFFAIRS
Directorate C: Migration, Protection and Visa
Unit C.4 : Migration management support
Dear Ms O’Keefe,
Thank you for your letter to Commissioner Johansson and for sharing your concerns about the situation on Lesvos. The Commission supports the national authorities to manage migration in line with EU law and values.
In September 2020, the Commission established a dedicated Taskforce which, together with the Greek authorities, is working as a priority on a joint pilot to improve the situation on Lesvos by better managing migration and asylum processes and setting up new, fully up-to-standard reception facilities on the island in 2021. As regards the new Multi-Purpose Reception and Identification Centres (MPRICs) which will replace the existing centres on the islands, the Greek authorities have confirmed that the residents of the new MPRICs will be allowed to enter and exit at will, while the MPRICs will be constructed fully in line with the relevant EU acquis and standards.
Concerning allegations of inappropriate use of force by law enforcement officials at the border, these need to be followed up by the national authorities, including through credible investigations. The Commission is not competent to investigate individual allegations on pushbacks and has repeatedly requested the Greek authorities to carry out relevant investigations. The Commission has also stressed that while it is important to protect the external border, it is imperative that any measures taken must be proportionate, necessary and uphold fundamental rights and values, including the right to asylum.
One of the proposals in the New Pact on Migration and Asylum that the Commission presented on 23 September 2020 would require Member States to set up an independent monitoring mechanism to monitor respect for fundamental rights in relation to the proposed screening at the external borders, including compliance with the principle of non-refoulement during the screening.
Migration management is a European issue, which needs a European solution. This is why we proposed the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, which addresses all elements needed for a comprehensive European approach to migration. It sets out improved and faster procedures throughout the asylum and migration system and sets in balance the principles of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility. Only by working together can the EU find balanced solutions, in full respect of fundamental rights and our values.