Greece’s National Transparency Authority (Ethniki Arxi Diafaneias, EAD) officially released its full (190-page) report on pushbacks from the Greek border earlier this week.
We’ve left it a few days because a) we are busy (and sorry for that) and b) it’s a 190-page document and… it takes some reading, as well as some ‘believing’.
As we have noted in another service we offer, (Tuesday 29 March 2022 National Transparency Authority claims ‘no evidence’ of pushbacks) the body – which was appointed by the Greek government and is packed with its friends – had already issued its laughable finding that ‘there is no evidence’ that the Greek government has been carrying out pushbacks from its borders.
This conclusion was particularly ridiculous because:
- the Greek government has in fact consistently argued that it has absolutely been carrying out pushbacks from its borders but these were legal because it was ‘protecting its borders’ (it is not legal to ‘protect ones borders’ from unarmed people seeking asylum),
- absolutely thousands of videos, witness and victim testimonies exist of the Greek government carrying out pushbacks and
- in late April, between the Authority issuing its ‘finding’ and releasing its report, Fabrice Leggeri, the director of the EU’s border agency Frontex, was forced to resign when it was revealed that its own records showed that it had taken part in pushbacks from the Greek border, along with Greek uniformed officers, and had covered up pushbacks it had witnessed the Greek government carrying out. (Friday 29 April 2022 Leggeri resigns as Frontex director after latest revelations of the agency’s illegal, immoral activity).
Equally relevant, and something which should (and probably will not) be even more worrying for the EU, is that Leggeri’s ‘excuse’, offered in a series of terse and blunt letters, was that he had been told it was Frontex’ job to push people back from the border.
When the Authority issued its ‘finding’, it revealed it had asked the police for advice about whether the evidence provided by LightHouse Reports (using episodes documented by several international organisations) and several media organisations was enough to base a finding on.
But the Greek police were directly implicated as one of the bodies guilty of carrying out the pushbacks the evidence addressed. Asking their opinion on the evidence is like asking a person accused of a burglary whether the evidence against them is good or not.
We said then: ‘not only do LightHouse Reports’ own materials clearly show pushbacks taking place, such activities have featured in almost every major news outlet in Europe and the Americas, including the BBC, Spiegel, the New York Times, and CNN.
‘The police’s contribution was that: ‘There was insufficient documentation of repatriation actions sources, testimonies and identifiable facts, other than evidence subject to subjective interpretation and judgment.’
‘That is, ‘the evidence exists, and we have now seen it, but we do not accept it as evidence’.
‘Perhaps it is not a good idea to ask the Greek police force to investigate cases in which the Greek police force are implicated in carrying out illegal acts.’
There is very little of further actual interest in the report.
Its findings are so transparently incorrect as to make it almost impossible to believe that even the Authority itself actually believes what it has said, and to prove the methodology precisely as foolish as its earlier announcements indicated.
But there is one extra point, which was unclear on Tuesday 29 March 2022.
The report reveals that the Authority did not speak to one single organisation which has been logging pushback details, except to ask LightHouse Reports for ‘extra details’ regarding the video footage it (in fact, the police, who are suspects in the case) dismissed as ‘subject to subjective interpretation and judgment.’
And it reveals it did speak to ‘third country nationals’ – people entering Greece to find decent places to live, learn and work – but only those in Greek Reception and Identification Centres.
That is, the Authority, while seeking to discover whether the Greek government is refusing to allow people to enter the legal system to apply for asylum, spoke only to people who have been registered as ‘new arrivals’ to Greece.
It is like asking a burglar whether the evidence of the burglary they are accused of having carried out is ‘reliable’ and then instead of speaking to the victims of the burglary, speaking instead only to people who have never in their lives been burgled.
(Phevos Simeonidis actually broke down the number of people from different ‘groups’ interviewed by the Authority: he can be found here). It is almost as astonishing as the rest of the report. He notes that the interviewees were:
- 26 police and coast guard officers
- 3 migration officials
- 10 religious officials
- 21 business people
- 4 people who have reached Greece
- 1 NGO worker (not from an NGO documenting pushbacks)
It is almost impossible to imagine what the Authority even thought it was doing: it interviewed 65 people, of whom an absolute maximum of six – less than one in ten – could possibly be thought to have anything relevant to contribute (there is no reason to speak to more than one representative of the Greek police, for example, unless one is attempting to uncover a massive breach in police procedure by searching for inconsistencies in understanding and practice across the entire force).
Even then, every one of the four – less than one in ten of those interviewed – people who arrived in Greece hoping to find safe places to live, learn and work, were people who were actually registered by the government. Not one person who was pushed back.
There are a couple of other points to note.
The first is that on page 38 the report’s authors claim that Greece as a nation would not carry out pushbacks because: ‘Greece would not risk being exposed as a country, and such illegal actions are not in line with 'Greek mentality’.
Now. The problems with this are manifest and almost infinite.
But to try to make it as simple as possible.
The National Transparency Authority was charged with investigating whether or not the Greek government, using its uniformed officers, is and has been carrying out pushbacks from its borders, specifically its borders with Turkey.
It is extraordinarily doubtful whether appealing to some imagined ‘national mentality’ is useful, helpful, or even remotely relevant to that undertaking. Either pushbacks are happening, or they are not.
Perhaps, if one found they were not, one might choose to turn to some romantic notion of ‘national character’ (though no such thing in fact exists). But to attempt to claim it as somehow evidence that actual material events are or are not taking place is beyond ludicrous.
Secondly, in fact every country certainly contains people who absolutely would welcome their government breaking the law to keep foreign people out. There is no such thing as ‘national mentality’. If there were, each country would always have the same government, and would be largely identical throughout its entire history. And, as we shall see, were that government in Greece always Nea Dimokratia, that ‘national mentality’ would absolutely be that people should be prevented from entering Greece.
Because, thirdly, Nea Dimokratia’s policy absolutely is to prevent people from reaching Greece, and to remove them from the country if they do.
Not only has the party spent every moment since it entered opposition in 2015 (and in many ways, well before that) arguing that refugees are a threat to Greek lifestyles, livelihoods and lives – that in fact breaking the law to prevent them entering or remove them if they do is ‘Greek’ and that it is the sole way to ‘safeguard’ the ‘Greek mentality’ and the Greek ‘culture’ – the party’s leaders specifically state that pushbacks are legal and are ‘correct’, even as they deny they are taking place.
Notis Mitarachis, the country’s Migration Minister, consistently argues that the majority of people arriving are not ‘real’ refugees and have no right to be in Greece (he cannot possibly know, when they arrive, whether this is true or not, which is precisely the reason why no-one can be removed from a country without having had the chance to apply for asylum there, and in any case most people turn out, in fact, to have had genuine cause to leave and ask for safe places to live, learn and work), and that Greece has the right, and is ‘right’ to ‘protect its borders’, even though he must know that there is no legal sense in which the term ‘protect one’s borders’ can be followed by the words ‘from refugees’.
This narrative is specifically designed to justify pushbacks, and to persuade Greek people that they are both legal and proper.
Neither is it ‘just’ Mitarachis.
In an interview with Kathimerini (Greece) on 6 July 2021, Kiriakos Mitsotakis, the leader of Nea Dimokratia and the Prime Minister of Greece, said – and this is a direct quote, with nothing removed: ‘I reject the concept of pushbacks, as a term. I reject it. It is word that does not exist in my vocabulary. But when there’s a boat coming, and we see it coming, and we’ve seen where it’s coming from, we have an obligation to alert the Turkish Coast Guard and do what we can so that the boat goes back where it started. This is what we do.’
That statement is literally in one sentence saying that ‘pushbacks’ are not only not carried out by Greece, but do not even exist, and, in the very next sentence describing pushbacks – effectively, the dictionary definition of the term – and saying ‘we do carry them out.’
Whatever the (fictional, imagined) ‘Greek mentality’ may be, the current Greek government simultaneously and absolutely claims that pushbacks do not happen and do not exist, and that Greece is definitely carrying them out, and is correct to do so.
If one takes ‘what the government says’ as ‘evidence’ (and it is certainly more sensible to do so than relying on figments of our collective imagination such as ‘national mentality’ – at least statements by a government can be proven to have existed when they were made) then Greece is certainly carrying out pushbacks.
Nor do we need to rely on government statements. There are thousands of videos, photographs, and testimonies by people who have been pushed back, by ‘concerned’ police officers and by eye-witnesses, to show that they do.
And, ironically, there is also the National Transparency Authority’s report.
Because within the report, it is noted that in the last year alone, the police department in Greece’s most North-Westerly region, Orestiada, ‘prevented 99,843 people’ from entering Greece in 2021.
Once again, these were pushbacks. Almost 100,000 pushbacks from the Greek border, in one region alone, in just one year. They are illegal, and yet the Authority, which specifically states that these pushbacks took place, says there is no ‘evidence’ that any pushbacks took place.
On page 16, the report notes that ‘outside’ Greek waters, the Greek Coastguard uses ‘sounds and appropriate measures’ to prevent boats entering Greek waters – a direct breach of the law, and a statement that directly corresponds with repeated reports of the Greek Coastguard operating outside Greek waters, using guns and damaging boats containing people seeking safety.
And on pages 17-18, it notes that inside Greek waters only boats located in ‘search and rescue’ operations are disembarked by the Coastguard. We must ask, what does the Authority believe happens in other cases within Greek waters?
In any case, the Authority’s findings are demonstrably incorrect, and have been reached by exceptionally dubious and questionable means. We cannot but conclude that the report is genuinely not worth the paper it is written on, and the EU, which funded the ‘investigation’ must now ask precisely what it has paid for.
But even accepting that, the report’s authors have been unable to avoid revealing that of course, the Greek government has been and is carrying out pushbacks from its borders.
And it has. Anyone familiar with our reports will know that in the Aegean Sea alone, from 1 March 2020 to 30 April 2022, the Greek government has pushed back 37,571 men, women and children.
In fact, the number is probably far greater.
In the same period, it has registered as new arrivals just 7,264 people. That is, the Greek government, in direct breach of international law, has pushed back 83.8 per cent, more than four in every five, people who have arrived in Greece via the Aegean Sea.
It is genuinely hard to imagine how the Authority’s report could be as poor in all elements as it is. It is an object lesson in ineptitude and astonishingly poor methodology.
Unless it was intended all along to absolutely prove that the Greek government is carrying out pushbacks from its borders. In which case, the Authority deserves warm congratulations, having achieved that aim handsomely, and the EU can rest assured that its money was well-spent.