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.’
‘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: ‘Deaths’, is the third.
The other four parts are also available online or as pdfs:
Part five – Change in ‘flow’ – Greece and the EU, or other factors? (pdf)
‘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 are sorry to labour a point, but Mitsotakis’ claim that the Greek (or indeed Turkish) coast-guard, or Frontex, have ‘protected human lives’ is simply a disgrace, and very easily proven to be untrue.
In 2016, 182,500 men, women and children arrived in Greece. 441 people – one person for every 413.1 who made the crossing safely – died.
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, the Greek government registered 28,630 people as arrivals by sea. 54 people – one for every 530 who safely reached Greece – 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 – died.
In 2020, the first full year of Mitsotakis’ Nea Dimokratia’s period of government, 9,105 people were registered as arrivals by sea. 104 people – one person for every 87.5 who made it across safely – died.
This is the highest number of deaths per safe arrival on the Aegean Sea since records began.
From 1 January to 19 May this year five people have died, compared with 1,086 registered safe arrivals. One death for every 217.2 safe arrivals.
This is certainly an improvement, but we ought to note that three of those deaths (and in fact a fourth person is almost certainly dead but because his body has not been recovered, he is still officially listed as ‘missing’) were caused when the Greek coastguard set five men adrift in an engineless life-raft with their hands tied with plastic handcuffs.
The number of people dying on the crossing is – on the whole – falling, though the number as well as the proportion who died in 2020 was higher than in the last nine months of 2016, all of 2017 and all of 2019, and was, we repeat, the highest proportion of deaths compared with safe crossings since records began.
The general fall is of course a positive sign.
But there is a point to be made here about the ways in which policing ‘routes’ to the islands can increase danger, even as it reduces numbers of arrivals and deaths (when it does). Because the ‘easiest’ – and generally the shortest – routes are those most often used, and so most heavily-policed.
This can, with the best will in the world (and we are far from certain that anyone involved in the EU-Turkey Statement, or Nea Dimokratia’s ‘response’ to people trying to reach Greece actually has the ‘best will in the world’) drive people to more dangerous routes – increasing the risk to those who try to cross even as it may reduce the number who try to.
And that is the problem at the heart of the EU’s response to date: it has placed far too great an emphasis on reducing numbers and/or preventing people arriving – even where in doing so it directly breaks the law – and far too little on safety.
If Greece or the wider EU (and the same goes for almost every country outside of the EU) were actually interested in people’s safety, they would instead of ‘policing’ waters to stop people and make arrests, be providing safe transportation for those who need it, and patrolling waters for the purpose of saving lives and delivering people to the place they want to go, rather than illegally forcing people back to the places they have fled.
Finally, and most importantly, we repeat: Mitsotakis’ government, hand-in-hand with the EU, has overseen the highest ever rate of deaths on the Aegean Sea. For him to sit in front of the world’s media and claim his activities and those of the people to whom he issues orders have ‘protected human lives’ is an open and deliberate falsehood. He must be held to account for his actions, in EU and international courts.
Go to Part four – ‘Irregular arrivals’ and ‘border protection’