Arrivals of refugees from Ukraine to Greece
Over 19’000 people from Ukraine have arrived in Greece in mid April 2022. The majority arrived through the Greek-Bulgarian land border but some arrived as well via flights to the airports of Athens and Thessaloniki. The government of Greece is very welcoming to them and has guaranteed reception capacity and support. All while the situation for the people in the Greek camps remains dire. Read more about it in the article from ECRE.
Like in many other countries, it has been unfortunately reported that people have to move out of their housing to make space for the newly arrived people from Ukraine. The Minister of Migration, Notis Mitarachi, got criticised, because he called Ukrainians “real refugees” on March 1st, in front of the Hellenic Parliament.
“At a time when Greece welcomes Ukrainians as ‘real refugees,’ it conducts cruel pushbacks on Afghans and others fleeing similar war and violence,” Frelick said. “The double standard makes a mockery of the purported shared European values of equality, rule of law, and human dignity.” (Quote from the article of Human Rights Watch)
At the end of April 2022, there are officially less than 1100 asylum seekers living in Kara Tepe camp. More than half of them have been granted asylum and a passport and are waiting to leave the island. Most of the refugees living in Kara Tepe camp depart from Mytilene on direct flights via Athens to another European country. According to the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum, this means that after the Easter holidays, departures will increase because seats can be found at cheaper prices than during the holidays. “By the end of May, with luck, there will be a camp on Lesvos with less than 700-800 asylum seekers,” it said characteristically.
Pushbacks, deaths and arrivals
According to the Aegean Boat Report, a boat with 57 people on board attempted to cross from Berham in Turkey to the north of Lesvos in the early hours of 20 May. As they approached Lesvos, deep in Greek waters, they were apparently stopped by the Greek coast guard, the engine was destroyed and they were towed back across the border into Turkish waters. 57 people from Afghanistan, including 27 children, were pushed back by the Greek authorities in this operation and their right to apply for asylum was denied.
Early on Friday afternoon, 15th of April, the body of a child was found from a sailboat in the sea off the island of Heraklia (Small Cyclades) in the central Aegean Sea. The body was dressed only in a white blouse and is estimated to be a child between the ages of 12 and 15. The remains were in an advanced state of decomposition and not even the sex of the child could be identified. According to the authorities, the child could be among those missing in the shipwreck of two refugee boats off the islands of Paros (25th of December) and Folegandros (22nd of December) last Christmas(2021).
The body of another small child was recovered from the Aegean Sea off the island of Naxos in Greece on the 8th of January, two weeks after these two fatal incidents; authorities estimate that this child, who was about three years old and had a height of about 84 cm, is also a victim of these incidents.
On the 6th January, four more bodies of a man, a woman and two pre-teen girls were found, three off Naxos and one off the nearby island of Paros.
People are still missing who died in these two fatal shipwrecks at Christmas last year, some will never be found.
Until the 24th of April, the Aegean Boat Report documented the arrival of 21 boats on the Greek islands, carrying 292 people. During the same period, according to the Turkish government, 96 boats with 2661 people in search of security, were stopped by the Turkish Coast Guard or Turkish Police. Some of them may have been in Greek waters or on Greek land before.
Criticism of Frontex
Journalists from various media have investigated and found out that the EU border agency Frontex have been involved in numerous pushbacks, where refugees have been pushed back at sea or brought from land back to sea, and abandoned without the possibility to ask for asylum. There are cases in which people reached Greek waters or even Greek land and were documented as “prevention of departure”. This is actually the category for cases who never left Turkish waters and were prevented from reaching Greek territory at all. This reporting has resulted in many false declarations in the Frontex database. These occurrences have also been confirmed by internal Frontex sources. Such cases of pushbacks are highly problematic from a legal point of view. Frontex is usually not directly involved in the pushbacks, but reports sighted boats and people to the Greek coast guard, which then abandons the people later. Nevertheless, through its operation in the Aegean, Frontex is legally responsible for human rights violations that happen there. For example, by supporting the Greek coast guard or not performing the monitoring function that they are supposed to have. Frontex has actually known since Spring 2020, that Greece is allegedly violating fundamental rights in the Aegean through video recordings it has made, but it always denies this. But the budget of Frontex is to be massively expanded in the next few years and the number of officials is to be doubled to 10,000 in the next five years.
In addition to these investigations, there is also an investigation of Frontex by the EU’s anti-fraud office OLAF that has been going on for years. According to four EU officials, the EU’s anti-fraud agency OLAF has launched an investigation into Frontex over allegations of harassment, misconduct and pushing back migrants. Although this OLAF report itself is kept secret, two sources with knowledge of the investigation say that Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri and his former head of cabinet, Thibauld de la Haye Jousselin, are named in the investigation. All these investigations and reports have put Frontex under pressure in recent days and also EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson was asked in a legal notice on 24 March by a Netherlands-based civil society organisation to submit a proposal to dismiss Frontex head Fabrice Leggeri. Now that criticism from serious investigations by the EU’s independent anti-corruption agency has finally been confirmed, it is nothing but consistent that the Frontex director has meanwhile submitted his resignation. Because the criticism of Fabrice Leggeri is actually old: he is almost blind in one eye, namely the eye that should reflect self-critically on his own work. However, the structural problems of this agency are so firmly anchored that they are hardly solved with the resignation of the director. Because the same body that now has to accept Leggeri’s resignation – the Frontex Management Board – whitewashed the agency a few months ago. Frontex had not done anything wrong. Not even Leggeri. Logical. The investigation was not independent.