Rory O'Keeffe, Koraki
French woman in Turkish jail after (yet another) illegal pushback from Greece
The Greek government's barbaric and illegal campaign of pushbacks against people seeking safe places to live, learn and work has reached new levels of mania and ludicrousness, as a French woman, now in jail in Turkey, reveals she was stripped, beaten and forced into Turkey by Greek uniformed officers as she attempted to escape to her homeland.
'Calm down. She has a French passport. There is no problem in Greece.'
There are moments at which we wish we didn’t have to write about the same things over and over again. But as long as they keep happening, we have to tell people. How else will they know?
So here is one of those things.
A French woman who fled Turkey with her husband after the Turkish government sentenced them to six years in jail in a politically-motivated case is now in a Turkish prison, and is suing the Greek government after yet another pushback.
She arrived in Greece on 21 October 2021 with her husband, a Turkish man.
She is a French citizen, with Turkish background, and had moved to Turkey to study in 2013. While there, she met and married her husband, and stayed in Turkey to live and work.
But in the aftermath of the failed coup of 15 July 2016, the pair were two of a huge number of students and others arrested on suspicion of being part of FETO, the Fethullahist Terror Organisation, which the Turkish government claims is led by Fethullah Gulen and is responsible for the coup.
As we have noted on a number of occasions, whether Gulen did plan the failed coup is exceptionally doubtful. But what is not doubtful is that FETO is either a figment of the Turkish government’s imagination, or it has simply deliberately made it up. Either way, it does not exist.
In any case, the pair were sentenced, after an appeal in June 2021, to six years in jail. For belonging to a group which does not exist.
Unsurprisingly, they fled Turkey and on 21 October 2021, crossed to Greece over the Evros River.
Upon arrival, they e-mailed Greek and French authorities, explaining their situation and their desire to reach France, where she is entitled to live, and her husband should be as a family member – he would at the very least be legally-entitled allowed to apply for asylum there, or indeed anywhere else.
Instead, in common with a sadly unknown but almost certainly enormous number of people, she and her husband were illegally forced back to Turkey.
They were stopped by police while on the way to Thessaloniki, forced to kneel, and were stripped of their money, phones, shoelaces and their papers – his, Turkish, and hers French.
The police then forced them into a closed box, drove them to the border, held them for several days (during which they were repeatedly struck by uniformed officers) and forced them into an inflatable raft (without life jackets) and back across the river.
The woman and man repeated several times that they were being persecuted in Turkey, and their families contacted the Greek embassy in Paris, where they were told to ‘calm down’ because ‘she has a French passport. There is no problem in Greece.’
Now. As we keep having to say. It is not illegal for any person to travel from Turkey to Greece – or from any country to any other country – with or without paperwork, if they tell the authorities, as soon as possible after their arrival, of their desire to apply for asylum.
Indeed, they must be allowed to do so under the law.
In the case of this couple, however, even this does not apply. This woman is a French citizen who had reason to believe (and this is why the law says what it says about paperwork and specifically does not outlaw ‘irregular travel’) that she would be persecuted for a political position she did not even necessarily hold, but which the Turkish government chose to ‘believe’ she holds. She is literally entitled by birth and by citizenship to live in France.
Her husband, even were he not her husband, also has the same legal rights as every one of us – to live in a safe place, free from persecution.
Like so many others, he is a refugee – at the very least, like everyone, he is a person entitled to apply for asylum. There is absolutely no excuse for anything else to happen.
But instead, as in the vast majority of cases since 1 March 2020 (26,755 of 34,560 people to have arrived in Greece by sea alone – as noted, we simply do not know how many ‘land’ pushbacks have been carried out – 77.4 per cent, have been illegally pushed back by the Greek government from 1 March 2020 to 31 January 2022) they were illegally and brutally forced out of Greece by armed, uniformed, Greek officers.
They are now in jail.
This is immoral. It should be beneath an EU member state (though we must note that the EU Commission President Ursula von der Layen, in the aftermath of Greek forces gassing and shooting refugees on its borders with rubber bullets in late February 2020, said ‘Greece is our shield’ – the EU, and indeed UK, knows what is happening on the Greek border, as on the Polish border, and it is refusing to act to prevent it). And it is absolutely illegal.
We simply no longer know how often we must keep talking about this, but we must. Should the human race survive long enough, our children and theirs will ask us ‘what the hell were you doing?’
They will be right to ask.
At least 21 men, women and children have died – more accurately been killed – at the ‘land’ border between Turkey and Greece and the wider EU, in the first 51 days of this year alone.
This is not a policy. It is a wild, racist reaction and an attack on the entire structure of international law. It is not acceptable, and it is our duty to stop it.