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  • Writer's pictureRory O'Keeffe, Koraki

Pushback proportions, not numbers, fall in August

The Greek Coastguard pushed the lowest proportion (31.4 per cent: 2,455 men, women and children, compared with 5,352 registered as new arrivals) of people back from the Eastern Aegean islands since the country's government embarked on its brutal, barbaric and illegal pushbacks campaign on 1 March 2020.


But this is not because the policy has been dropped, or even modified.

In August this year (2023), the Greek Coastguard illegally pushed back 2,455 men, women and children who had arrived at the Eastern Aegean islands hoping to apply for asylum, or travel to a state in which they wish to do so.


This is their legal and human right, while the Greek government has absolutely zero legal or other right to force those people back into Türkiye, let alone to beat them, rob them of their possessions, kill them or sexually assault them, as is the effective standard practice of the Greek police and Coastguard, under orders from the Greek government of Kiriakos Mitsotakis, at the Aegean and Evros border regions.


We have chosen to write a little more about the situation than in our usual monthly updates, however, because the actual percentage of arrivals to the islands who have been pushed back in the last month is significantly lower than usual: 31.4 per cent.


This is the first time since March 2020, when Mitsotakis' government made illegal, vicious brutality its main response to tired, hungry people arriving into Greece and the wider EU seeking safe places to live, learn and work. Indeed, this is the first time since then that the number has dropped below half that of people registered as arrivals on the islands, and only the second time (July this year was the first) that it had dropped below 60 per cent.


As a mark of how low August's pushback proportion was, the total pushback rate from the Aegean islands since 1 March 2020 remains at 65.8 per cent, significantly more than double last month's, even when August 2023 is included in the overall figures.


As a result, we felt we should note that the number of people pushed back last month, 2,455, was in no way unusually low. The Greek Coastguard has not 'cut back on pushbacks' as some hoped in the aftermath of the sinking of the Ariana on Wednesday 14 June 2023, which caused the deaths of around 650 men women and children.


(this was the worst maritime catastrophe in Greek history, and the second-worst ever recorded on the Mediterranean, and all available evidence points to the fact that the Greek Coastguard caused the boat to sink: at best, it sat by and watched the boat sink, and managed to rescue just 104 of roughly 750 people aboard, a pitiful one in seven people.


The Greek government, whose leader Kiriakos Mitsotakis campaigned for re-election on 25 June on the claim that anyone who says the Greek Coastguard did anything wrong is 'anti-Greece' and 'attacking the country' has as yet made zero effort to even begin an investigation into the catastrophe's causes. The EU still insists that it believes such an investigation 'will take place')


In fact, out of 44 months since 1 March 2020, the Greek Coastguard has only pushed back as many people as it did last month on six occasions. The Greek illegal, violent and disgraceful pushback rate has not fallen.


Instead, the number of people arriving has increased.


In August 2023, 5,352 men, women and children were registered as new arrivals on the Eastern Aegean islands (172.65 people per day on average).


This is more than half of the number of people registered as new arrivals in the whole of 2022, (10,661) and far more than the 3,567 people registered in 2021. It also absolutely dwarfs the number (2,504) of people registered as new arrivals on the islands from 1 March to 31 December 2020.


There is the opportunity to talk about 'reasons' why so comparatively many people have made the journey in the last eight months (the number of people to have arrived this year surpassed the figure for 1 March 2020-31 December 2020 on 13 March, the 3,567 people who arrived in 2021 on 22 April, and last year's total, 10,661, on 17 August. To 31 August, 13,639 people have been registered as arrivals on the Eastern Aegean islands this year: at least 12,863 have been pushed back), but the simplest explanation is the fact that, as we noted in some detail at the time, the only two factors in the decrease in the number of people registered as new arrivals into Greece and the EU between 2019 and 2020 were the government's illegal, violent and barbaric pushbacks, and the COVID pandemic.


Now that the latter has passed, we are seeing the hollowness of the government's boast that its breathtaking and despicable activity has 'put people off' making the journey.


As we have noted many times, even were pushbacks, beatings, sexual assaults, robbery and killings not illegal and disgusting, people travel because they need to, and are not 'put off' by governments behaving despicably.


The simple truth is that the Greek Coastguard has pushed back only a comparatively low proportion of the people who have arrived on the Eastern Aegean islands because a larger number have arrived than at any point since December 2019 (when 6,416 were registered as new arrivals) and the Coastguard is at its full capacity and carrying out the despicable orders of the Greek government to very nearly its fullest possible extent.


The government would attack, injure, sexually abuse and kill more men, women and children if it could. The stark and simple fact is that it is doing so to as many people as it possibly can. It is unacceptable, and impossible for Greece to claim to be a civilised state for as long as its government carries out such acts.


You can help end the Greek government' despicable and unacceptable campaign of terror, by visiting End Pushbacks Now and contacting your MEP: https://www.koraki.org/end-pushbacks


(All pushback figures are courtesy of Aegean Boat Report, all registration data is from the Greek government.)

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