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  • Writer's pictureRory O'Keeffe, Koraki

Ms. Baerbock: we already had the investigation. It is now time to act

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock says there must be an ‘investigation’ into the Greek government’s systematic, barbaric violation of EU and international law by pushing people back from its territory.

But we have already had the investigation. Now, it is time to act.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has visited Athens, where she called for an urgent investigation into pushbacks from Greece.

The Minister spoke in the Greek capital in the wake of the EU’s anti-fraud watchdog OLAF’s report finally being seen by people not working for the EU Commission.

The report details Frontex and Greek pushbacks from Greece to Türkiye, as well as a systematic practice by Frontex of ignoring and hiding pushbacks carried out by the Greek police and coastguard.

It proved beyond any doubt that pushbacks were being carried out, were being carried out by the Greek government, and that the EU Commission has, for well over two years, been operating an agency which has systematically and consistently violated EU and international law.

Baerbock said:

It is crucial that the European Union ensures that human rights are guaranteed universally at borders. The pushbacks of refugees reported in German media recently are not compatible with European law.

Greek authorities must systematically investigate these reports. While the EU has to protect its borders, European ideals must still be upheld. If we look away, those ideals will drown in the Mediterranean.

She added that she would like to help create an EU sea-rescue programme, in which those people who were rescued could be moved to other EU member states than those they arrived in.

We’ll deal with the last point first. Such a search and rescue service – effectively an EU Coastguard – is not a terrible idea.

Unfortunately, a similar project was attempted – albeit without the (quite good) movement of rescued people to other EU states – from 18 October 2013 to 31 October 2014, under the name Mare Nostrum.

It was a success, saving more than 150,000 lives. But it ended because only Italy paid as much money in as it had promised to, and almost no states provided ships, aircraft or workers to operate it, with the massive majority of each falling on Italy to provide.

Equally, many in the EU opposed the scheme, amongst them the UK’s Baroness Anelay, who claimed it was a ‘pull factor’ for what she called ‘migrants’, which is rather like saying running an ambulance service is a ‘pull factor’ for people getting serious injuries.

Even so, Baerbock’s proposal is generally good, and we should encourage her to continue with it.

Unfortunately, her other statements are less convincing.

Because calling for ‘investigations’ by ‘Greek authorities’ is simply a call for a repeat of the absolutely laughable National Transparency Authority ‘investigation’, in which a group appointed by the Greek government, and containing close personal friends of the government’s members, including Greece’s Prime Minister Kiriakos Mitsotakis, was chosen by the Greek government to investigate pushbacks which are being carried out at the orders of… the Greek government.

The Authority relied on advice from the Greek police, who were the second of the three bodies which was supposedly being ‘investigated’ to declare the evidence provided was unusable, and to conclude that ‘there was no evidence’ of pushbacks taking place.

If an investigation were needed, it could include some Greek participants, such as the Greek ombudsman, but it would have to be led by external investigators not themselves implicated in the pushbacks crisis (so not the European Commission), and to involve the Greek government only as a body being investigated, not choosing its own investigators. The UN may be able to lead such an investigation, or perhaps a regional, non-European body.

One does not ask burglars to investigate their own crimes, and neither does one allow them to appoint the investigators into those crimes.

But we also have to ask: why is Baerbock calling for an investigation?

The EU’s own anti-fraud watchdog has already carried out an investigation. It found that Frontex carried out pushbacks, and funded and hid pushbacks carried out by the Greek government.

That’s the investigation. Why call for another?

Instead, it is time to act.

The EU must stop funding Greece until its government ceases pushbacks, and at least Margaritis Schinas, as well as possibly also EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and its Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson, must leave or be fired for allowing – in Schinas’ case possibly ordering – an EU agency and an EU member state to consistently and violently break EU and international law for at least two years and four months.

Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachis, whose policies have caused the catastrophe and who in January 2021 awarded the now disgraced Frontex executive director Fabrice Leggeri a medal, was on-hand to attempt to mislead the Greek media and general public.

He said:

Greek border forces have not been involved in pushbacks and preventing refugees from the right to apply for asylum.

The OLAF report, along with thousands of photos, transcripts and videos, show the absolute opposite: Greek border forces have certainly carried out pushbacks, consistently and systematically over the last two years and four months.

He added:

We have the right to protect our borders, and our officials adhered to the rules even if there could be wrongdoing by individuals.

No country has the ‘right’ to ‘protect its borders’ from refugees. As Mitarachis knows only too well.

Greek officials consistently broke international and EU law by robbing, beating, sometimes severely injuring, sexually abusing, denigrating, pushing back and in some cases killing people who arrived seeking safe places to live, learn and work. From 1 March 2020 to 30 June this year, they pushed back at least 34,863 men, women and children in the Aegean Sea alone.

Another ‘defence’ of the Greek government has already begun in the form of an attack on Baerbock: claims by several Right-wingers on social media that she and her government now back a deal under which the Libyan ‘coastguard’ (in fact a collection of sea militias) prevent people from leaving Libya, in direct contravention of international law.

It is certainly true that her government has not, since taking power in 8 December 2021, made any move to end Germany’s part in the deal, and it is also certainly the case that this is unacceptable: people who are forced back into Libya are often beaten, tortured, raped and in some cases murdered, while those who escape the ‘Coastguard’ do so only at the cost of severely damaged boats, and often deaths.

German news-source has reported that the government may in fact seek to update and renew the deal. This would be an unacceptable commitment to the violation of international law, violation of universal human rights, and to the torture and death of innocent men, women and children.

But even should the German government commit to this outrageous and disgusting idea, this does not mean it is fine for the Greek government to also violate international law, rob from, beat and sexually assault men, women and children, and kill some of them.

At present, there is a barbarian on the borders of the EU.

It is the Greek government.

It is time that ceased to be the case.


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