A climate of fear
“I am concerned about the increasing criminalisation of humanitarian assistance in Greece.” said the special rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor about Greece, on her recent visit to the Aegean Islands at the end of June. Human right defenders are facing increasing prosecutions since 2019 when acting in solidarity with refugees and stranded people. In particular, the discriminatory NGO registry for organisations working on migration is a problematic part of the new legal framework in place in Greece, that adds to the climate of fear amongst many international helpers. (OHF also struggled to register, but we finally did it!) She also explained that the lack of support by other European States has led to these questionable practices in Greece.
Numbers on the Islands
At the end of June, a total of 2214 people are estimated to live on the Aegean Islands, most of which are still on Lesvos. 583 People made it to the shores of the islands via the Mediterranean Sea during that month, whereas approximately 3700 people were recorded to have been pushed back.
Push Backs keep happening
According to statistics from the Hellenic Coast Guard, several thousand people were prevented from entering the country, specifically via the islands of the eastern Aegean. They announced that these people have been picked up in international waters and brought back to Turkey, where they are supposedly safe. There is widespread disagreement with this view. Intercepted migrants should have the possibility to plead their case for asylum. Moreover, the stories of migrants being brought back from land of the Aegean Islands into international waters do not stop. New reports appear almost weekly.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has recorded almost 540 reported incidents of “informal returns by Greece since the beginning of 2020.” Our befriended organisation, the Aegean Boat Report, recorded much higher numbers. The EU human rights court in Strasbourg has issued injunctions or so-called interim measures on 13 different pushback cases, some involving children.
Greece and Turkey have been competing over air and sea rights in the Aegean for decades although they are both NATO members. In recent weeks, the rhetoric of Turkey over Cyprus became more aggressive. At the same time accusations of Turkey instrumentalizing migrants in the border area of Evros became more frequent by Greece. Disputes between the two mediterranean countries are expected at this week’s NATO summit in Madrid. Spain will present an initiative, in which they are aiming at limiting/preventing migration in the weakening of a severe hunger crisis in many Middle Eastern and North African countries. Greece is likely to back this suggestion. The inhumane, dysfunctional EU-Turkey deal should not serve as a precedent for another anti-migration scheme for Europe. Especially not in the light of a food security crisis induced by climate change and accelerated by the tragic war in Ukraine. The western world should find other answers than to lock their borders and pay poorer countries to deal with the people in need.