EU expects Greece to investigate if its measures against migrants are legal

EU expects Greece to investigate if its measures against migrants are legal
Commissioner Ylva Johansson and Greek minister Panagiotis Mitarachis at joint press conference on 12 March, credit: EU, 2020

The European Commission has repeatedly stated that EU can both protect its borders and respect the right to apply for asylum. It has been reluctant to respond to claims that Greek authorities have been using excessive force and illegal means to prevent illegal migrants from crossing the Greek-Turkish border.

Foreign media have recently reported that the Turkish authorities told migrants that the border was open and encouraged them to cross it. On the other side of the border, the Greek authorities did their best to push them back.

According to The New York Times (13 March), the Greek authorities have detained those migrants who managed to cross the border river Evros at a secret place. The newspaper managed to locate the place by satellite photos and forensic analysis.

There the migrants were allegedly mistreated and denied food or drink before being expelled to the Turkish side. Their requests to claim asylum and contact UN officials were rejected. A presidential decree passed on 3 March has suspended the asylum application process for a month.

When asked for a response by journalists from the newspaper at yesterday’s daily press briefing, the Commission spokespersons declined to comment on the specific case. The Commission underlines that Greece is expected to act lawfully and that any allegations of misconduct and illegal behaviour must be investigated by the Greek authorities themselves.

While EU repeats “that Turkey is not an enemy”, it also stresses that “people are not just means to reach a goal”. Turkey cannot “weaponize” migrants and use them to put pressure on EU. In fact, innocent migrants have become innocent pawns and victims in the conflict between EU and Turkey,

Ylva Johansson, Swedish Commissioner for Home Affairs, visited Greece on Thursday (12 March) to assess the situation in the Greek islands and to find a solution for unaccompanied minors in the islands.

At a joint press conference with Panagiotis Mitarachis, the Greek minister for immigration and asylum, she announced that as a start seven member states have responded to the Commission’s call for relocation of the minors and pledged more than 1,600 places. A source in the Commission told The Brussels Times that the total number of unaccompanied young people in the islands is 5,500.

The member states who have offered relocation places are France, Germany, Luxembourg, Ireland, Finland, Portugal and Croatia. Johansson’s own home country, Sweden, which received many unaccompanied minors in 2015, has not yet pledged any places.

To alleviate the pressure on the islands, an agreement has been reached to launch a new voluntary return scheme. “The Commission will support Greek authorities to promote the voluntary return of up to 5,000 migrants who are currently present in the islands.”

Those migrants opting for voluntary return will be given €2,000 in financial and technical support for their departure and towards reintegration in their home countries. The enrolment in this programme will be open for one month to those that had reached the islands before 1st of January 2020.

Asked about the secret detention centre, the Greek minister hurried to reply that Greece faces an emergency situation and that it was of utmost importance to protect EU’s common border. “We are doing it in accordance with Greek and international law,” he assured. According to the minister, a Greek government spokesperson has already denied the existence of such a centre.

There was no time to ask the commissioner if migrants could be paid to return to countries where their lives and freedom might be in danger.

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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