• Rory O'Keeffe, Koraki

If not a crime against humanity… Greece and the policy of pushbacks


Greek government operatives pushed back an astonishing 95.56 per cent of the men, women and children who attempted to – and in many cases did – reach the Aegean islands in September, the highest rate of this activity which is illegal under Greek, EU, international and human rights law.


Of 2,903 people who made the sea crossing from Turkey, just 129 were registered by the Greek government as new arrivals: more than 9.5 in every ten were illegally refused, and forced back to sea by the government of an EU member-state.


Considering the scale - and impact - of these illegal activities, we must consider whether the Greek government is now systematically carrying out crimes against humanity.


Also in September, on Tuesday 14, two young people from Cameroon, a man and a woman, became the 16th and 17th people known to have drowned in the Aegean Sea this year, during a pushback carried out by the Greek coastguard. One survivor reported the young people had been beaten and thrown by the coastguards into the sea.


The revelation about the shocking level of Greek government law-breaking comes just days after Greek Prime Minister Kiriakos Mitsotakis announced to the media at the opening of a new, EU-funded closed camp at Samos, in which new arrivals to the island will be held for up to five years, (also in direct contravention of international law) that: ‘Migration flows have decreased compared to 2019 by 90 per cent.’


This claim has been incontrovertibly shown to be false, as factors including the global pandemic have played the greatest part in reducing the numbers of people attempting to cross from Turkey to the Eastern Aegean islands during the periods in which those numbers have reduced, and flows – rather than the number of people registered as new arrivals – have not fallen by anywhere near 90 percent.


But the fact that illegally forcing people away from Greece is Nea Dimokratia’s sole operational policy to reduce the number of new arrivals it registers and enters into the legal system – as is those travelling people’s human right – indicates exactly what the party means when it talks about ‘reducing migrant numbers’: breaking international law and violating human rights to stop ordinary men, women and children from finding safe, decent places to live, learn, and contribute to their new communities.


Pushbacks – the illegal practice of forcing people out of, or preventing them from arriving in, a state – increased enormously in number and regularity from 1 March 2020, at which point Nea Dimokratia, which had campaigned against the arrival of men, women and children seeking safety into Greece, had been in power for eight months.


Since that point – up to 30 September this year – 76.66 per cent of people, 18,906 of 24,663, travelling to the Aegean islands have been illegally prevented from landing, or forced back to sea if they have managed to land.


From 1 January to 30 September 2021, that proportion has increased to 84.9 per cent, or 9,965 out of 11,749 people (the Greek government had, in the nine months to 30 September, pushed back 224 more people – 9,965 compared with 9,741 – than in the ten months 1 March to 31 December 2020: there is no way this can be portrayed as the ‘flow’ of people to Greece reducing).


Last month, that proportion hit 95.56 per cent. More than 9.5 out of every ten people not refused asylum, but being prevented from even entering to apply.


One may ask why and whether this is important.


And part of the answer is yes, and because there are several reasons why pushbacks are illegal – under laws the Greek state, all members of the EU and almost every nation under the planet helped draft, signed and ratified, and have pledged to uphold and protect.


First of all, pushbacks are dangerous.


In just one incident in March this year, four men drowned after the Greek coastguard handcuffed and set them adrift on the open sea.


Secondly, pushbacks are brutal.


In almost every case for which survivor or eyewitness testimony exists (almost every case we know has happened), men, women and children have been stripped of their possessions and beaten before and after being forced onto boats - or engineless life-rafts - and shoved out of Greek waters.


Thirdly, pushbacks are not only illegal, but also a direct contravention of our fundamental human rights.


It is the right of any man, woman or child, anywhere on Earth, to travel from their home (or any other location) to enter absolutely any place on Earth - whether they have documents or not - as long as they report their intention to apply for asylum to the appropriate authorities as soon as possible after they arrive.


This is the law.


It is also a human right.


And once a right is removed from a Somalian girl, and Afghan teen, an Iraqi man or a Syrian grandmother, it is removed from us all.


Because we have rights - by definition - simply because we exist.


The minute any government or other authority decides to 'grant' such a right, or choose not to recognise it for any person, it ceases to become a right. And once it is removed from one, it is removed from all.


The Greek government - almost certainly in the full knowledge of the EU and the rest of the international community - is committing a crime not only against thousands of men, women and children, but one which if it is not a crime against humanity (and in fact it may well be on five separate counts*), is a crime against every single member of the human race.


Anyone interested in how to help end this unacceptable practice, using their voice, can visit us at https://www.koraki.org/end-pushbacks to find out more, and share this link with friends, associates and supporters.


*Deportation and Forcible Transfer; Deprivation of Humanitarian Aid; Persecution; Torture; Sexual Violence.


We must note that the Greek government has not been tried for these crimes, hence why we state ‘if it is not a crime against humanity…’, and must therefore not be considered guilty until such a trial is heard, but significant evidence exists of each of these crimes, which is why we note that the Greek government may be carrying out crimes against humanity.

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