In preparation for an illegal attack this summer on men, women and children seeking safe places to live, learn and work, the Greek government has been sharing a narrative: their arrival will be illegal, and will have been forced by Turkey.
Neither statement is true.
It will not be illegal, and it will not have been forced by Turkey.
Nor would either justify the Greek government’s planned response – to unleash its military against vulnerable men, women and children.
Part One: Takis Theodorikakos, Minister for Civil Protection
On a visit to Greece’s Evros region on Sunday (28 May 2022), the country’s Minister for Civil Protection, Takis Theodorikakos, claimed Greece had ‘prevented 40,000 people [he of course incorrectly said ‘illegal immigrants’] from entering Greece,’ specifically at the Evros border, from 1 January to 30 April 2022. He did not say how, precisely, he or his government had gathered this figure.
If true, this would add to the 7,894 people Theodorikakos accidentally admitted the government had pushed back in the same period (he said 11,000 people had arrived in Greece, but the Greek government has registered only 3,106 arrivals in the same period, meaning the government has pushed back 7,894 men, women and children who it admits have arrived, but has not registered. Theodorikakos said then: ‘We won't allow anyone to enter Greece illegally either from Evros or through the islands. Let everyone realise this.’) meaning the government has illegally pushed back or prevented from entering Greece an astonishing almost 50,000 people in the first four months of the year: almost 12,000 per month, or roughly 100 people every single day.
Theodorikakos, who also claimed Greek police had arrested 150 ‘traffickers’ (they certainly were not traffickers, as the people they were travelling with wanted to travel. They were not even smugglers, as the people themselves want to be seen and exercise their right to apply for a decent place to live, learn and work) in the same period, proceeded to claim that the Turkish government was behind an increase in the number of people attempting to enter.
He said: ‘They must finally respect the principles of international law and good neighbourly relations and learn to respect our homeland, which has power and influence.’
Of course, the suggestion is simply nonsense.
People want to travel to Europe. The Turkish government is not forcing them over the border, and in fact as we have noted time and again Turkish authorities have – absolutely illegally but under the demands of the EU Turkey Deal - prevented significantly more people reaching Greece than actually manage to do so: from 1 January-30 April this year the Turkish Coastguard stopped 11,721 people from reaching Greece, compared to just 1,238 registered new arrivals – 89.5 per cent of people who have tried, have so far been stopped, by the Turkish Coastguard.
Even if Turkey wanted to push people over the border, it would struggle to do so unless people actually wanted to leave. Even in February 2020, when Erdogan proclaimed (directly in keeping with international law) that Turkey’s border with Greece was ‘open’ and provided transport for them to travel, no-one was forcing men, women and children to go: they did so because that is what they wanted.
The entire point of the EU-Turkey Deal is that it is an EU policy to trap millions of people in Turkey against their wishes and in direct contravention of international law and human rights. It is the illegal jailing of men, women and children.
Secondly, of course the number of people who are attempting to travel has increased. Because the Covid pandemic – which on 9 March this year the Greek Ombudsman ruled the Greek government had used unacceptably to break international and Greek law – and its associated travel restrictions was in full effect, and at its peak from January-April 2021.
To claim Turkey is responsible, even if it wants to be, is to deny the realities: that people want to find decent places to live, learn and work in the EU; that Covid, which had stopped them in the past, is no longer doing so; that the law says they can come if they choose to do so.
And in the end, that is the point. It is the legal right of these people to enter Greece and apply for asylum – or indeed to travel further West and apply for asylum there. It is the legal right of every state to decide whether or not they qualify for asylum, but it is not their right to deny them entry to the country.
Theodorikakos, as he very well knows, is wrong to claim anyone his government has prevented entering Greece is an ‘illegal immigrant’. They are behaving legally. It is he, and his colleagues, who are behaving illegally, and like barbarians.
Three people died on the Greek border at Evros – a woman was shot dead, another died on an Evros island, a man was found dead at the Evros border – and one boy on Samos, in this year’s Holy Week alone. The most sacred period of the Greek year was, in the period Theodorikakos boasts about ‘achievement’, stained with the deaths of four innocent people.
Others, too, have died. As we noted, 19 people were killed when stripped and forced into Turkey from Greece in sub-zero temperatures in early February.
This is what Theodorikakos is talking about when he talks about ‘preventing 40,000 people’ (in fact 47,894 men, women and children). He means breaking the law. Behaving like barbarians. And jailing, as well as killing, innocent people.
It is not acceptable. And it must not continue.