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  • Writer's pictureRory O'Keeffe, Koraki

Notis Mitarachis: lying to the Greek public

It is an uncomfortable thing to have to point out, but as his latest comments on migration policy confirm, Greece’s outgoing Migration Minister Notis Mitarachis is a liar.

We have found to our concern that we have recently used the word ‘lie’ a great deal when talking about politicians - particularly UK and Greek politicians – and their proposals regarding people on the move.

Our concern is genuine: to accuse someone of lying is not nothing. It is a meaningful and strong statement, and one for which reporters and others who publicly talk about people and policies for a living can – with some justification – be sued.

The problem is that in recent weeks (and indeed for far longer in many cases) we have seen politicians openly claim things they absolutely must know to be untrue.

We are happy to couch this in legally-safer terms, and say that either they do not know what they are saying is untrue, in which case they are not fit to hold the positions they hold, or they do know it is untrue – that they are lying – in which case they are not fit to hold the positions they hold.

But there are certain moments where it becomes necessary to simply call things as they are: where it is absolutely impossible to pretend a lie is anything other than a lie.

And this is one of those moments.

Greece’s Migration Minister Notis Mitarachis has responded to the SYRIZA manifesto, which was issued yesterday (Friday 28 April 2023).

That he has responded to the section regarding migration and refugees, and that he is critical of it, is not just to be expected, but absolutely his job. If he did not respond, or answered some other section of the document, he would be neglecting his post.

While Greece and almost everyone in Europe would be (in) a far better place had he neglected that post throughout the last three years and nine months, it would be unreasonable to criticise him for failing to do so.

What is unacceptable, however, is that Mitarachis has responded with lies.

We are now going to share what SYRIZA included in its manifesto (the relevant section is on pages 42-43, section 6.9. Citizenship – Refugee/Immigrant.)

It reads:

Citizenship for any children born in the country to a parent legally resident in it, with the aim of the gradual transition from the law of blood to that of the ground (soil: country of birth).

o Simplification of naturalisation procedures on the basis of European standards.

o Abolition of class restrictions in the process of granting citizenship with naturalisation, such as stable income and stable work for recent years, which excludes thousands of people who live and have been working for decades in the country

Guarding borders with respect to international and European law, against trafficking networks and attempts to exploit the refugee/immigrant from Turkey

Reception procedures with respect to international and European law, life and dignity of refugees/immigrants.

Small and flexible structures on the islands ensuring humane conditions and operating rules, fast identification process, asylum filing and inland transportation

Restoration of administrative detention based on the provisions of European law and the recommendations of the Council of Europe

Restore the guarantees of asylum requests with objective, fair and individual examination, without discounts, in both degrees of administration process.

Abolish the MLA by which Turkey is considered a safe third party country for five nationalities, a provision that rejects asylum applications en masse and a priori without even getting to the point (at which one can judge whether an application is genuine and its maker qualifies for asylum)

Reinstatement of the "residence permit for humanitarian reasons" for applicants of whose asylum application is rejected, like Saidou Kamara, but the judges of the committees of the Appeals Authority judge either that any return would put them at risk or that they have developed strong ties to the country.

(a note here from us: as we noted at the time, Saidou Kamara had fled Guinea as a child, after his aunt’s partner abused him, his aunt and partner forced him to convert to Islam, and he suffered further abuse as a homeless child.

When he turned 18, he was immediately issued with a deportation order, as is standard at present in Greece: the country literally states that adults admitted to Greece as children should be deported at 18.

Saidou was fortunate that his classmates, teachers and responsible adults from across his community stepped forward and demanded he be allowed to remain, and eventually Greek Prime Minister Kiriakos Mitsotakis stepped in to halt his deportation and allow him to remain: the very fact that the Prime Minister did so is an indication that every other child who turns 18 is not so ‘lucky’ (we use the word advisedly: Saidou was ‘lucky’ because he was treated as he should have been, and others are not) and is deported automatically)

It continues:

We will operate a system of social and financial inclusion with active participation of the local society, as was reflected in (SYRIZA’s) National Strategy for Integration in 2019, with cutting edge interculturalism, the creation and maintenance of an open society, which will respect diversity, with rights and obligations for all the people who live in it, thus ensuring social cohesion.

At this point, we must make a note.

The absolutely horrific nature of Nea Dimokratia on refugees and other travelling men, women and children, including its illegal pushbacks (which almost always include new arrivals to Greece being stripped of their possessions – often including clothing – being beaten, often sexually assaulted and sometimes killed); its open lies about them, their behaviour, their ‘impact’ on Greece and attitudes; its building of five concentration camps for new arrivals on the Eastern Aegean islands; its illegal naming of Türkiye as a ‘safe state’ for refugees from five countries, and refusal to allow applications from anyone who originated in any of the five, and has been in Türkiye; its insistence on maintaining ghettoes, far from towns and cities, as places in which men, women and children must live, rather than even attempting any kind of social cohesion programme; its refusal to provide even those accepted as refugees with any assistance with food, shelter or any other necessities for life; and its criminalisation of humanitarians for doing their jobs, and other people for simply seeking safe places to live, learn and work, makes life very easy for SYRIZA.

We should note that what SYRIZA sets out here is in fact nothing particularly spectacular. Some of it is welcome – making life easier for the children of immigrants to Greece, ending the declaration of Türkiye as a safe state – but really falls simply within the boundaries of current international law. And some of it (such as administrative detention) is, though positive in its way, simply only a small step towards what would be a good policy: that is, they are not good policies, they are just steps towards one.

And those of us who have been here long enough know very well that the last SYRIZA government was very far from being perfect – in some cases very far from being acceptable – on matters relating to people in transit and international law.

SYRIZA – on this issue and many others – is by far the best option men, women and children have if they have respect for human rights, human lives and human beings in general, but only because they are the party large enough to remove Nea Dimokratia.

SYRIZA simply does not deserve your support. But it deserves your vote, because it is not Nea Dimokratia, and its policies, while flawed and far from what is necessary, are far, far better than the current government’s.

We do not ‘recommend’ voting for SYRIZA – it would not be our place to do so even if we wished to. But we do recommend, strongly, that Nea Dimokratia is removed from power. That may be achieved by votes for PASOK, MERA25 and the ‘Green-purple’ coalition, but the hard fact is that unless SYRIZA performs well at these elections, we will have another four years of governance by Nea Dimokratia.

SYRIZA is not ‘the answer’ to Greece’s problems. But it may be the only answer we have to Nea Dimokratia’s four years of bigotry and barbarism

In any case, in response to the reasonable but limited ideas of SYRIZA, Notis Mitarachis rushed out the following statement, which we will analyse below:

In immigration, SYRIZA has already been judged for the period 2015-2019 but did not learn. It is trying with its program to restore the open border policy of 2015-2019, where over 1 million immigrants entered our country and thousands drowned in the Aegean.

With its proposals, it makes an open call to hundreds of thousands of immigrants, who currently live safely in Turkey, to come to our country, our islands and the Evros. Especially with the proposal for the abolition of the CPA that characterizes Turkey as a safe third country, it essentially asks that Greece unilaterally abolish Turkey's obligation to provide international protection and essentially invites hundreds of thousands of immigrants to come to our country.

At the same time, SYRIZA is attempting to put a brake on deportations with proposals to abolish administrative detention, which would allow illegal immigrants to "sunbathe in our squares and disappear" instead of being detained and deported from Greece.

At the same time, because immigration is obviously a European and international problem, in the face of the wishes of SYRIZA, the Ministry of Immigration & Asylum is at the forefront of Europe, having created two very strong European alliances:

MED5: with the Mediterranean countries of first reception of the European Union, which aims at the solidarity of the member states towards Greece, Italy, Spain, Cyprus and Malta.

Vilnius process: where the majority of the member states of the European Union have expressed themselves clearly in favour of the strict guarding of the European borders, through technological means and the construction of physical barriers, such as the extension of the Evros fence.

The Government of Nea Dimokratia, with determination, drastically limited the immigration flows and the effects of the immigration crisis on local communities and with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis as the leader, we will move on the same path for the next four years.

We’ll take the last paragraph first.

The number of people who were registered as new arrivals in Greece from 2020, Nea Dimokratia’s first full year in government, to now, certainly fell (though not by as much as Mitarachis implies: one million people arrived in Greece in 2015-16, but in 2017 that number fell to 36,310, and was at 50,508 in 2018, SYRIZA’s last full year in power. So just one per cent of the number Mitarachis attempts to claim as a fair comparison).

But it did so due to two main reasons: the global pandemic, for which Nea Dimokratia cannot claim responsibility, and the party’s barbaric and illegal pushbacks of men, women and children from its borders.

That is, Mitarachis seeks to claim credit for a worldwide fatal disease and its catastrophic outcomes, and for he and his party murdering, beating, raping and robbing from men, women and children at its borders. Not only that, Mitarachis claims he will continue to behave in this despicable fashion if re-elected.

(we should of course also note that the EU alone handed Greece €3.2bn from 2015-21 to ‘deal with’ the people arriving on its shores. If communities have been adversely affected by people’s arrivals – and in fact all available research shows they have not – this is because that money has not been used where it was needed, which is the government’s responsibility)

The MED5 and Vilnius process do not, in fact, reflect Greece’s position as a ‘leader’ or its position even as part of a group that believes something reasonable and true.

The MED5 has been largely ignored, but its most reasonable request is that Southern EU states receive greater help from their Northern colleagues, particularly on relocating new arrivals, which is also what the majority of those people want.

It does not in any way reflect that an attitude of breaking international law to harm and exclude people is acceptable. It simply isn’t.

And the Vilnius group is a similar matter, though without even the façade of reason offered the MED5 by the latter’s one acceptable request. It is a collection of people dead-set on breaking the law to keep foreigners out. Even if the rest of the EU agreed with it – and despite Mitarachis’ implications here, it simply does not – that would not make what it wants reasonable, moral or legal. It is none of those things.

It is also disappointing to have to note, again, that while ‘guarding one’s borders’ is legal, preventing people from arriving in your country to apply for asylum is not.

Very few people are calling for no-one to be allowed to guard their borders against potential attack, and while most reasonable people can understand that people should be allowed to travel to find work, the law does say that people who are not seeking safety from persecution must have appropriate documents if they wish to enter and live in another country.

But what we do ask is that international (and EU) law be followed. And that means not pushing people from your borders and refusing to allow them to apply for asylum. Mitarachis’ consistent and deliberate confusing of ‘protecting one’s borders’ and ‘keeping people from applying for asylum’ is just one more example of his fundamental dishonesty, driven either by his own bigotry, that of his party, or a belief that the majority of Greek people are bigots who will only vote for someone who is inhuman towards foreign people.

But other things Mitarachis said are worse.

First of all, there are not ‘hundreds of thousands’ of immigrants in Türkiye. There are millions.

Even if we limit that to the number of people who are seeking safety from persecution, which is their legal right, as Mitarachis is doing (when he says ‘immigrants’ here, he is not referring to UK second home owners) there are 3.6m Syrian men, women and children registered as ‘people under temporary protection’ in Türkiye, plus around one million Iraqi and Afghan people, who are not entitled to protection in Türkiye (a point to which we will of course return).

So, why would Mitarachis get this number so wrong? It is genuinely hard to say. We must be reasonably certain that he is not innumerate, and it seems unlikely that he genuinely wishes to play down fears of people coming to the EU from Türkiye, especially in the context of attacking SYRIZA prior to a general election.

We could guess that it was in some way an effort to draw attention from the fact that Türkiye currently hosts roughly four times more Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi people than the whole of EU, which is roughly five times Türkiye’s size by population, and is the wealthiest political bloc to have existed at any point in history.

The fact is, however, that we cannot claim to know. What we do know is that the number is incorrect, and Mitarachis or at the very least a member of his team, knows it: therefore, his claim is a lie.

In the overall scheme of his comment, however, it is not a particularly huge lie. Just a pointer to his shaky relationship with the truth.

He mentions an ‘open border’ policy he claims SYRIZA had in 2015-19, and states that in this period ‘over a million’ people came to Greece.

As Mitarachis certainly knows, SYRIZA did not, in fact, have an ‘open border’ policy.

People who came to Greece from outside the EU who wanted to stay in the country either needed a visa or had to apply for asylum. No-one else was allowed to stay in the country. It is, as Mitarachis knows, incorrect to claim this is an ‘open border policy’, and the fact that he knows it makes this a lie.

Why should we care that Mitarachis is lying about SYRIZA? We shouldn’t, especially. But we should care that a man in a position of power over the lives of men, women and children seeking safety from war, chaos, terror and death should be quite so easily shown to be deliberately lying to the Greek public.

More than a million people did certainly come to Greece in 2015-19. Not because of an ‘open border’ policy, but because two enormous wars (and a third in Afghanistan which was in a later stage) were at points at which people who had not fled realised they must, and people who had, realised it would be a long time before they could return, if they ever could.

It was the legal responsibility, as Mitarachis knows, of countries into which people wished to escape, to enable them to do so.

But it’s worth noting that of those ‘over one million people’, in fact 1,038,864 came in 2015-16. In 2017-19, in fact 161,431 people were registered as new arrivals in Greece, just 13.4 per cent of the 1,200,295 people who arrived in the four-year period Mitarachis mentions.

So why would Mitarachis claim ‘over a million people’ came in a four-year period, when in fact ‘over a million’ arrived in a two-year period at the start of that timeframe, and just 13.4 per cent of the total in 2017-19?

It seems pretty clear that what Mitarachis is attempting here is to characterise all of SYRIZA’s period in charge as one of ‘open borders’ and huge numbers of people arriving in Greece.

It wasn’t.

In fact, the EU-Turkey Statement, which largely ensured it wasn’t, is itself a violation of international law, and we would strongly argue that more people than did so should have been allowed to enter Greece and the EU in the last two years of SYRIZA’s government.

But Mitarachis, whose first criticism of SYRIZA is that it obeyed the law by allowing people to travel to seek safety, disagrees, and in order to characterise SYRIZA as he wishes to, produces a genuine number in the most misleading possible way.

If one hates refugees, as Mitarachis either does or believes Greek people do, SYRIZA’s time in government is one of success: an enormous ‘challenge’ faced it, and was dealt with so spectacularly that the number of new arrivals was cut by more than 86 per cent in the second half of its administration.

Once again, Mitarachis is deliberately seeking to mislead the Greek public.

He then claims that SYRIZA’s pledge to end the use of Türkiye as a ‘safe state’ is an ‘invitation’ to people in Türkiye to come to Greece.

It absolutely isn’t, as Mitarachis well knows.

It is illegal to name a state as ‘safe’ and then deport people without even considering their applications for asylum, on the grounds of that declaration alone. Every asylum application must be considered on its own individual merits, and must not be judged solely on a person’s origin, or where they have travelled from or through.

What SYRIZA is pledging to do is stop Greece breaking international law.

It is not possible to say whether this violation of the law is preventing people from travelling to the EU, but Mitarachis, his government, and the Greek police’s claim that the country broke the law 260,000 times in 2022 by pushing back 260,000 men, women and children at the Evros border indicates that it is probably having zero effect. So ending it simply is not ‘sending an invitation’ to people to come to Greece.

If it were, it is their right to come in any case, so this would not be the negative Mitarachis seeks to claim. But it is not.

He claims that to cease violating international law would: ‘essentially ask that Greece unilaterally abolish Turkey's obligation to provide international protection.

But it does no such thing. First, because as Mitarachis knows, international law makes absolutely no demand that Türkiye must offer protection to everyone who enters Türkiye. It is the right of every man, woman and child to travel to any country they choose in order to make an application for asylum, and to pretend otherwise is simply a falsehood.

And not only that, as Mitarachis is certainly also aware, not only does Türkiye have no ‘obligation’ to hold people who do not wish to be there within its borders in the name of ‘international protection’, Türkiye in fact has fewer obligations to offer international protection than Greece or the other EU member states do, because unlike them, it never ratified the section of the 1967 Refugee Protocols that extended the right of people to claim asylum to non-Europeans.

This is, in fact, one major reason why the claim that Türkiye is a ‘safe state’ for Syrian, Afghan, Iraqi, Somalian and Bangladeshi people is so ludicrous. Not only is no state guaranteed to be ‘safe’ for everyone, Türkiye does not have any obligation to offer protection to any of those on Mitarachis’ list, and it did so only for Syrian people, and only for a strictly limited period.

The Turkish government openly boasts about carrying out refoulement, forcibly deporting Afghan people, Iraqis and Bangladeshi people, and in recent years has started forcing Syrian men, women and children back into a state where all risk being, and some have been, tortured by IS or the government.

Not only does Mitarachis know that Türkiye is not a safe state, and that it is in any case illegal to deny people asylum solely on the basis that they have been in a ‘safe state’, he also knows – or at least should do – that Türkiye simply does not have the ‘obligations’ he claims.

This does not reflect at all well on Türkiye, and it is good that we can show the country’s attitudes and horrendous activity, but that does not make what Mitarachis says true. It is false, and it is impossible to believe that he does not know this. It is, in short, a lie.

Finally and most openly, Mitarachis claims that SYRIZA’s policy notes indicate a plan to ‘cease deportations’, which they do not, and to ‘abolish administrative detention’.

We wish SYRIZA would make such a pledge. We wish it would make, too, an impassioned and sensible argument about why ‘administrative detention’ is a hollow laugh in the face of concepts of justice and human decency. We wish it came to power and carried it out.

But it isn’t making such a promise (and it never makes such arguments). As we have seen, the sole thing SYRIZA has said about administrative detention is that it would: ‘{restore} administrative detention based on the provisions of European law and the recommendations of the Council of Europe’.

That is, SYRIZA in its own words pledges not to end administrative detention, as Mitarachis claims, but to run administrative detention according to laws and guidance set by the EU, of which Greece is a member, and as such should be following.

To claim that SYRIZA plans to end administrative detention is, simply, a lie. It does no such thing.

It is impossible to say whether lying is a kind of medical compulsion for Mitarachis, whether perhaps he does it even without knowing he is doing it. Perhaps he regrets his lies when confronted with them at a later date, and does not even remember telling them or why he did so.

So we shall not be unpleasant to or about him. We each have our cross to bear.

But what we will say, as advice to every person in Greece, and any others entitled to vote on Sunday 21 May, is that Mitarachis is a liar. You cannot trust his word on any issue, because he is a liar. Whether deliberately, or because of some terrible affliction, Notis Mitarachis cannot be trusted. He is a liar.


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