• Rory O'Keeffe, Koraki

Kiriakos Mitsotakis: ‘credit’ for ‘reducing flows’ on the Aegean Sea: Part one – The Data

Updated: May 29


(download this piece as a pdf.)


Late last week (20 May 2021), some 23 months into his tenure as Greece’s Prime Minister, Kiriakos Mitsotakis announced his pride that:


In the last two years, with the active support of Frontex, we have managed to reduce flows by almost 80% in 2020 and by an additional 72% from the beginning of the year until today.


He added:


I would like to warmly congratulate the Greek Armed Forces, the Greek Police, and especially the Greek Coast Guard and my colleagues in the government for the results they have achieved. I would also like to congratulate the Coast Guard and FRONTEX for the protection they provide against the risk of loss of human life at sea. The protection of our borders not only prevents irregular arrivals, but also protects human lives.


We have seen no analysis of this claim, or indeed of whether such a development could be considered desirable or even legal. As a result, we have compiled our own ‘review’, within which we conclude:


· Mitsotakis’ claim could only be considered accurate if one accepts a definition of the term ‘flow’ which equates to ‘the number of people the Greek government has registered as arrivals in Greece’. This definition is used by absolutely nobody, and would reduce the term to practical uselessness even if Greece and the wider EU were not breaking the law to prevent people being registered as ‘new arrivals’, which in fact they are


· Bearing in mind the first point, the figures ‘almost 80%’ and ‘72%’ must be dismissed as inaccurate: in fact, ‘flow’ has ‘reduced’ by 67.6% and 49.4%,

respectively


· This reduction has been achieved by an enormous increase in illegal pushbacks carried out by the Greek government – and according to Mitsotakis’ statement, also Frontex – since 1 March 2020: this is the sole factor for which he and/or the wider EU can claim any responsibility


· Greece (and perhaps Frontex) illegally pushed back at least 14,324 people in 2020 – 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


· The Greek government has in fact reduced the number of people it has registered as ‘new arrivals’ – and thus allowed to enter the legal system and apply for asylum, as is their right – to just 25 per cent of people who have attempted to or managed to, reach Greece: it has denied a staggering 75 per cent of people this right from 1 January to 30 April this year


· Mitsotakis has misused the terms ‘irregular arrivals’ and ‘border protection’: neither have any legal relevance to the conversation he wishes to have, and both should therefore be dismissed and ignored


· Far from ‘safeguarding human lives’, as he claims, Mitsotakis and his government have overseen the single greatest proportion of deaths per safe arrival of people crossing the Aegean Sea in recorded history


· While Greece (and according to his statement, also Frontex) absolutely has reduced the number of people registered as new arrivals in Greece since 1 January 2020, by breaking international law and denying men, women and children their fundamental human rights, by far the greatest factor in the reduction on ‘flow’ appears to have been the onset of the global COVID pandemic


This review has proven to be considerably longer than we first imagined. As a result, we have divided it into five parts, of which this: ‘The Data’, is the first.

You can access the whole review, or download it as a pdf.


The other four parts are also available online or as pdfs:


Part two – Registered arrivals (pdf)


Part three – Deaths (pdf)


Part four – ‘Irregular arrivals’ and ‘border protection’ (pdf)


Part five – Change in ‘flow’ – Greece and the EU, or other factors? (pdf)


Contents


Introduction


Comparison criteria


‘Flow’ Definition


The data


a) what is included

b) what is not included

> Turkish coastguard pushbacks

> deaths on the Aegean Sea

> Greek pushbacks


Introduction


Late last week, at a meeting in Athens with the CEO of the EU’s border force Frontex Fabrice Leggeri, the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced that he was proud that:


In the last two years, with the active support of Frontex, we have managed to reduce flows by almost 80% in 2020 and by an additional 72% from the beginning of the year until today.


He added:


I would like to warmly congratulate the Greek Armed Forces, the Greek Police, and especially the Greek Coast Guard and my colleagues in the government for the results they have achieved. I would also like to congratulate the Coast Guard and FRONTEX for the protection they provide against the risk of loss of human life at sea. The protection of our borders not only prevents irregular arrivals, but also protects human lives.


These claims should in no way be accepted as fact, defying as they do the statistical realities of the situation, the actual definition of the term ‘flow’, the concept of ‘border defence’ and the idea that human lives have been ‘protected’.


Not one of these claims stands up to any analysis.


In his speech, Mitsotakis went on to make several comments about Turkey, which were roughly as accurate as they were helpful, but we do not need to address those here.


We do feel, however, that we must address the clear inaccuracies in the above statements, if for no other reason than to ensure that in at least one place there is a reliable, considered and correct response to the misleading claims of the Greek Prime Minister.


Comparison criteria


In order to be as fair as possible, we will begin by setting a date of 19 May 2021 for the ‘comparison’ moment (that is, we will compare with 19 May 2020). Though his statement was made after this date, we do not feel it’s likely he had figures from the day before, while it would have been impossible for him to have known what would happen by the close of the day on which he spoke.


‘Flow’ definition


We ought also, however, to make a note on what the definition of ‘flow’ is here, as without that we have no criteria against which to judge Mitsotakis’ claim.


In general humanitarian and political situations, the term ‘flow’ when applied to people moving holds the simplest possible meaning: ‘the total number of people travelling from one place to another’.


We would advise that under this definition, the ‘flow’ can be regarded as ‘people leaving a point of origin’ rather than ‘people reaching a destination’, as the latter can be significantly complicated by, for example, a government or governments at the travellers’ desired end-point preventing their entrance by breaking the law, or by people dying en route.

Mitsotakis is attempting to apply a different definition – the number of people successfully completing a journey from one place to another: to simplify in this instance, the number of people arriving in Greece from Turkey.


Even using this definition, however, there are significant faults in the Greek Prime Minister’s claim.


The data


a) what is included


we have managed to reduce flows by almost 80% in 2020


In 2019, 59,993 men, women and children entered Greece by sea, seeking a safe place to live. In 2020, that figure fell, to 9,105. (in all of the following examples, we are using the Greek government’s arrivals figures, even though UNHCR’s have been consistently higher for every year since 2015).


In actual fact, on the face of it, this is a drop, rather than ‘almost 80%’, of almost 84 per cent (84.82 per cent).


But we should include ‘land’ arrivals (those people who cross the Evros river to reach Greece) as well.


In 2019, 14,891 men, women and children came to Greece by land. In 2020, that number dropped to 5,982, a fall of around 60 per cent (59.83 per cent).


So, in total, in 2019, 74,884 men, women and children travelled to Greece seeking safe, decent shelter and a chance to live their lives in peace.


In 2020, that number dropped to 15,087. A fall of 79.85 per cent.


This does appear to match the ‘almost 80%’ reduction in ‘flows’ Mitsotakis claims.


and by an additional 72% from the beginning of the year until today.


We are assuming Mitsotakis means that the number of people who have arrived in Greece from 1 January-19 May 2021 has dropped by 72 per cent compared with the corresponding figure last year.


If so, those figures are that up to 19 May this year, 1,068 people had been registered as having arrived in Greece by sea. In 2020, 7,355 men, women and children had arrived. (for the sake of ‘completeness’, and because we will come back to this, we might note that from 1 January-19 May 2019, 8,453 people had arrived). This is a reduction of 85.47 per cent.


From 1 January-19 May this year, 1,718 people have arrived by ‘land’. In the same period of 2020, 2,111 had arrived in Greece. (In the equivalent period of 2019, 4,083 men, women and children arrived). So, there has been an 18.62 per cent decrease in people making the so-called ‘land crossings’.


In total, 2,786 men, women and children have arrived in Greece from 1 January-19 May 2021. In the same period of 2020, 9,466 people had reached Greece by the same routes. The drop between these two periods is 70.57 per cent. It is unclear why Mitsotakis should have claimed a one per cent greater drop than the reality, but it is a less wild claim than some others he has made on this topic, and not of particular statistical importance.


Mitsotakis’ claim: ‘we have managed to reduce flows by almost 80% in 2020


The fact: 2019 - 74,884 new arrivals. 2020 – 15,087 new arrivals. A 79.85 per cent drop in people registered as arriving in Greece.


Mitsotakis’ claim: ‘and by an additional 72% from the beginning of the year until today.


The fact: 1 January-19 May 2020 – 9,466 new arrivals. 1 January-19 May 2021 – 2,786 new arrivals. A 70.57 per cent drop in the number of people registered as arriving in Greece.


b) what is not included


So far, the statement seems to hold up. As long as we accept the Mitsotakis definition of ‘flows’, it appears that ‘flows’ have decreased by roughly the levels he claims.


The problem comes, however, if we attempt to use the more widely-accepted and applied definition: that of the number of people setting out on the journey, rather than those who have managed to arrive.


Because ‘arrivals’, as registered by the Greek government, do not in fact include all of the people who have arrived on the Greek islands, or who have managed to cross the Evros river. The government lists only those who have legally-registered as ‘arrivals’, but this is, as we shall see, far from the whole story.


> Turkish coastguard pushbacks


Under the EU/Turkey Statement, the Turkish coastguard is (illegally) demanded by the EU to intercept people attempting to cross the Aegean Sea and force them back to Turkey. This is in direct contravention of the right to travel to seek safety, as included in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (to which Turkey and all EU member states are signatories), and has effectively transformed the Turkish coastguard from a life-saving service into an illegal sea militia force.


(The EU has done exactly the same thing to the (far less-organised and worse-equipped) Libyan ‘coast-guard’ to prevent men, women and children crossing the sea from North African to Southern Europe: its insistence that it be regarded as a protector and promoter of international law should not be so easily punctured by its two major foreign policies of the last decade)


But despite repeated claims from successive Greek governments, to the contrary and despite many significant flaws and justified concerns about the Turkish government, the statistics clearly show that the Turkish coastguard has fulfilled its part of the ‘deal’.


In 2016, 182,500 men, women and children reached Greece. But 147,437 had arrived by 20 March, when the Statement came into operation. In the rest of the year, 35,063 people arrived. In the same period, the Turkish coastguard stopped and pushed back 17,190 people, 49 per cent as many as those who made the crossing. (all coastguard figures taken from the Turkish national coastguard service).


In 2017, 28,630 men, women and children reached Greece. The Turkish coastguard intercepted and returned a further 21,937, or 76.6 per cent as many.


The following year, 2018, saw 32,432 people reach Greece. The Turkish coastguard stopped and forced back 26,679, 82.3 per cent as many.

In 2019, the year in which Nea Dimokratia took power in July, 59,859 men, women and children reached Greece by sea. The Turkish coastguard intercepted and forcibly returned 60,366 people, preventing more people from crossing (100.8 per cent) than arrived.


In 2020, the year Mitsotakis lists as the first for comparison, and Nea Dimokratia’s first full year in power, 9,105 people managed to reach the Aegean islands from Turkey. The Turkish coastguard stopped 19,511 crossings, well over twice as many people (214.3 per cent).


2020 was also the year in which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told men, women and children seeking safety in Turkey that the Turkish border with the EU was ‘open’. Of course, it was not.


We wrote at length the reasons why Erdogan took this step when he did, but even had it been a simple piece of ‘manoeuvring’ as the Greek government and many EU politicians continue to claim, we should note that this, early March 2020, was the first time in almost exactly four years that Turkey and the EU had not been in direct breach of international law.


The EU, for which that sorry record has now continued into a sixth consecutive year, responded with police and armed forces firing at unarmed civilians on its borders and, later the same month, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stating that ‘Greece is our shield.’


Quite why the richest political bloc ever to have existed should require a ‘shield’ to open fire on helpless and desperate men, women and children has never been adequately explained. In any event, despite this, March was not the month in which either most arrivals or coastguard ‘blocks’ were recorded. That month was January, in which 3,137 people arrived in Greece and 4,062 were prevented from reaching Greece by the Turkish coastguard.


So far this year, 1,086 men, women and children have arrived, while 5,066 have been stopped by the Turkish coastguard, by far the highest proportion yet recorded (473 per cent more prevented than arrived).


To compare 1 January-19 May of 2020 and 2021, 7,355 people arrived, while 9,768 were stopped by the Turkish coastguard from 1 January-19 May 2020, while this year, as noted, the figures are 1,086 arrivals and 5,066 people who were stopped by the Turkish force.


What is interesting about these figures is the way they alter our view of what Mitsotakis claims to have happened. Because if we accept that in fact 120,225 people either attempted or managed to enter Greece by sea in 2019 (the number of those who were blocked by the Turkish coastguard and those registered by the Greek government as new arrivals) and 28,616 in 2020, the difference, while still significant, drops to 76.2 per cent.


If we then add those 14,891 people who arrived in Greece in 2019 by crossing the Evros river, the total ‘flow’ is 135,116 men, women and children, of whom – because of the EU-Turkey Statement’s illegal demands on the Turkish coastguard - 74,884 (55.4 per cent) of whom were actually registered by the Greek authorities.


Following the same process for 2020, 34,598 men, women and children attempted to reach Greece – the ‘flow’ – of whom 15,087 (43.6 per cent) were registered as arrivals.


Using this data, the ‘drop’ in ‘flow’ between 2019 and 2020 was in fact 74.4 per cent. Once again, still large, but different enough from Mitsotakis’ claim of ‘almost 80 per cent’ to show that when he refers to ‘flow’, he means the number of people his government has registered as ‘new arrivals’, rather than the number of people undertaking the journey.


To take the same approach to the periods 1 January-19 May 2020 and 2021, a total of 19,234 people attempted to use their legal right to travel from 1 January-19 May 2020, of whom 9,466 men, women and children were ‘successful’.


In the equivalent period of 2021, 7,852 men, women and children have undertaken the crossing of the Aegean or the Evros. Of those, 2,786 were registered as arrivals.


This – far from an ‘additional drop’ of 72 per cent, as Mitsotakis claimed, or even of 70.57 per cent as the figures actually show – was in reality a fall in flow of 59.2 per cent.


Mitsotakis’ claim: ‘we have managed to reduce flows by almost 80% in 2020


The fact: 2019 - A ‘flow’ of 135,116 men, women and children, including those stopped under the illegal demands of the EU-Turkey Statement. 2020 – a ‘flow’ of 34,598 men, women and children, including those stopped under the illegal demands of the EU-Turkey Statement.

2019-2020, a drop in ‘flow’ of 74.4 per cent.


Mitsotakis’ claim: ‘and by an additional 72% from the beginning of the year until today.


The fact: 1 January-19 May 2020 - A ‘flow’ of 19,234 men, women and children, including those stopped under the illegal demands of the EU-Turkey Statement. 1 January-19 May 2021 - A ‘flow’ of 7,870 men, women and children, including those stopped under the illegal demands of the EU-Turkey Statement.


1 January-19 May 2020 – 1 January-19 May 2021, a drop in ‘flow’ of 59.1 per cent.


> deaths on the Aegean Sea


We should note here that if looking at flows of people, the number who die at sea while attempting the crossing – not included in any other analysis – should also be noted.


In brief, in the year 2016, in which 182,500 men, women and children arrived in Greece, 441 people died: one person dead for every 413.1 who made the crossing safely. Of those, 35,063 people arrived after the EU-Turkey Statement was signed. In that period, 68 of those men, women and children – one in 515.6 – died at sea.


In 2017, as well as 28,630 people the Greek government registered as arrivals by sea, 54 people – one for every 530 who were registered as arrivals – died.


In 2018, 32,432 people were registered by the Greek government as having arrived by sea. 174 – one person for every 186.4 who made it safely – died.


In 2019, 59,859 men, women and children were registered by the Greek government. 71 people – one for every 845 who was registered as an arrival – died.


In 2020, 9,105 people were registered as arrivals by sea by the Greek government. 104 people – one person for every 87.5 who made it across safely – died. This, during Nea Dimokratia’s first full year in power, is the highest proportion of deaths compared to safe arrivals on the Aegean Sea since records began.


In the period 1 January-19 May 2020, 72 men, women and children died in the Aegean Sea, compared to 7,355 people registered as arrivals. One death for every 102.2 arrivals.


In the same period of this year, five people have died, compared with 1,086 safe arrivals. One death for every 217.2 safe arrivals.


For the purpose of measuring Mitsotakis’ claim, we should note that this means that to the figure of 135,116 men, women and children who could be described as the ‘flow’ in 2019, we must add the 71 people who died making the journey. The figure we now record must be 135,187 men, women and children.


For 2020, we must add the 104 men, women and children who died to our earlier figure of 34,598. That figure is now 34,702 people.


And for 1 January-19 May 2020, we need to add 72 men, women and children who died trying to cross, to the ‘flow’ figure of 19,234 people. That number rises as a result to 19,306 people.


For the equivalent period of this year, we add to our earlier figure of 7,852, a further five people, raising our figure to 7,857 men, women and children.


Based on this, the actual drop in ‘flow’ between 2019 and 2020 is very similar – 73.3 per cent.


The drop between 1 January and 19 March 2020 and the same dates in 2021 remains 59.2 per cent.


> Greek pushbacks


The Greek government’s position on pushbacks has been to tell the EU and international media that no pushbacks are taking place from Greece, and that any and all claims to the contrary are either the result of Turkish propaganda, or are being made because the people and/or organisations revealing the practice are part of a Turkish conspiracy against Greece.


The groups so far accused include every monitoring NGO working on the Aegean Sea, the United Nations, more than a dozen international media organisations, many MEPs and the Council of Europe.


Within Greece, while still making these extraordinary claims, the government also repeatedly makes statements that it is in any case its ‘right’ to prevent people entering Greece. It is not.


In any case, the data, including location data from mobile phones, videos shot by refugees being attacked by Greek uniformed officers and the statistics on the number of illegal pushbacks carried out by the Greek government do exist, and are easily accessed. Here, we are using figures compiled by Aegean Boat Report for sea pushbacks, which are also used in our End Pushbacks Now campaign.


The Greek government does push people back illegally from Greece. The practice is important to this analysis because the system is designed not even to prevent people entering Greece (though it certainly includes that), but to illegally deny them the right to apply for asylum, and force them out of the country instead.


This practice has been ongoing since the EU-Turkey Statement came into effect in March 2016, but in every case organisations working with refugees – particularly those doing so on and beside the Aegean Sea –report that the number of people pushed back has significantly increased since 1 March 2020.


It will be difficult for us to apply an accurate figure to the precise number of pushbacks on either the Evros border, or at the Aegean, prior to 2020, because too few of the figures have been published, not least because the land border pushbacks had been carried out under relative silence – albeit with extreme violence and theft carried out against innocent men, women and children.


But as a degree of guidance, from 1 April 2019-30 June 2019, 70 pushbacks were reported by organisations working at Evros. From 1 March-30 April 2020, 194 were reported – almost three times as many in two-thirds of the time.


Pushbacks are taking place in Greece at the borders, but also at camps across the Greek mainland, with reports arising of men, women and children being forced out of camps including Diavata, Lagadikia and other locations in the North of Greece, without being given the opportunity to register and enter the legal process for applying for asylum which is their right under international law.


These pushbacks were taking place in 2019, and before, but based on the reports available, in far smaller number.


As a result, we cannot seriously claim to be able to make a clear ‘comparison’ between 2019 and 2020 in terms of ‘flow’, but what we can do is make an estimate, based on a 15-fold increase in pushbacks from the Aegean region and a quadrupling of incidents at the Evros border.


Our concern is that we are in fact significantly underestimating the amount by which these illegal pushbacks have increased. And we can offer accurate figures for the Aegean Sea in 2020 and 2021 to date.


In 2020, 9,741 men, women and children were forced into engineless craft and set adrift on the Aegean Sea, pushed back by uniformed Greek officers. In the same year, the Greek government registered just 9,105 people as new arrivals by sea.


From 1 January-19 May 2020, 2,430 people were pushed back from the Greek coast, including people who had landed on the Aegean islands. From 1 January-30 April 2021, that figure had increased to 3,000 people.


Applying the 15* rule, the approximate number of people to have been pushed back in 2019 would have been roughly 694.


On the mainland, as no figures yet exist for the period 1 January-19 May 2021, we are forced to estimate based on last year’s numbers.


In 2020, the Border Violence Monitoring Network recorded 4,583 people as having been pushed back from Greece at the Evros river crossing. The true figure seems likely to be considerably higher.


Using the *4 rule, this would suggest roughly 1,145 people were pushed back in 2019.


Based on this data, we can estimate that around 286 people were pushed back in the period 1 January-19 May 2020. Without accurate data, we cannot seriously suggest a much higher number for 2021.


This would mean that factoring in the Greek government’s illegal pushbacks of innocent men, women and children from its borders, the actual flow data for 2019 compared to 2020 would be 137,026 people in 2019, and 44,443 for 2020.


The percentage difference would now be 67.6 per cent, down considerably from Mitsotakis’ claim of ‘almost 80%’.


For the period 1 January-19 May 2020, we must now record 22,022 people as having tried to reach Greece, of whom only 9,466 have been registered by the Greek government as arrivals.


For the equivalent period of this year, 11,143 people have tried to reach and claim asylum in Greece, of whom just 2,786 have been registered as arrivals – a smaller number even than those illegally pushed back at sea.


The overall drop in ‘flow’ – the term cited by Mitsotakis – was in fact 49.4 per cent, compared to the Greek Prime Minister’s claim of 72 per cent.


Go to Part two – Registered arrivals

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