Turkish teacher sues Greece for violating asylum rights at border

A Turkish woman is suing the Greek state over allegations that the police forcibly returned her to Turkey when she tried to claim asylum in Greece, said Euronews on Wednesday. 

Her case is the first time that an asylum seeker has used audiovisual evidence to sue the Greek authorities for sending them back to Turkey. Greece is a signatory to the European Convention on Refugees, which makes it illegal for asylum seekers to be refused or returned to countries where they are at risk.

Ayşe Erdoğan, a 28-year-old teacher, spoke to Euronews from Gebze prison, where she has been held since being returned to Turkey. 

“I have been in this cell for a long time, which tires me out. I came within an inch of meeting with my twin brother after years before the Greek police pushed me back. I will never forget how they made me suffer,” she said.

Erdoğan had crossed the border between Turkey and Greece on May 4, 2019 while awaiting trial in Turkey on terrorism charges. She is accused of being a member of the Gülen movement, which Turkey holds responsible for masterminding the failed 2016 coup.

Erdoğan said she had tried to claim asylum in the Greek village of Cheimonio, but was sent back to Turkey by Greek police on May 5, 2019. 

While the Greek authorities have denied that Erdogan was ever in Greece, Erdoğan recorded footage of her journey, including dropped pins on mobile phone application WhatsApp and a video diary documenting her movements. 

Forensic Architecture, a research agency at Goldsmiths, University of London, released a video in February in collaboration with HumanRights360 which draws on spatial analysis and multimedia evidence they say proves Erdoğan was in Greece at the time.

“For the first time, we can see her whole journey, her being in the country and the police station, as she recorded it,” Forensic Architecture researcher Stefanos Levidis told Euronews. “We were able to prove that Ayşe crossed from Turkey and she was in Cheimonio police station. She disappeared then and appeared only in a Turkish prison again.”

Eleni Takou, deputy director and head of advocacy at HumanRights360, told Euronews that Erdoğan’s multimedia evidence makes her case particularly strong. She said security officers usually confiscate migrants’ phones before forcing them to go back into Turkey and that such “push-backs” happen almost every day across the Evros River, marking the border between Turkey and Greece, where thousands of migrants cross each year.

The video has been submitted to the public prosecutor of Orestiada, Evros by lawyers for Erdoğan. They are appealing a pre-trial decision from the prosecutor in December, which dismissed Erdoğan’s complaint. 

Greece has denied the allegations, and labelled the videos and photos of “push-backs” as “propaganda” against the state, said Euronews.

While the European Union came out strongly in support of Greece last month, this week it warned the Greek government that it must uphold the right to asylum, as leaders from Brussels travel to Athens for talks on the migrant crisis at the EU’s borders, said the Guardian on Thursday.

Thousands of people began massing at Turkey's border with Greece, following an announcement in late February by Turkish authorities that they would no longer stop migrants trying to get to Europe. Turkey accused Greece and the EU of violating human rights and international law, after Greece suspended its asylum process and deployed violent measures against migrants on the border. 

Ylva Johansson, EU commissioner for home affairs, said she wanted to discuss a secret detention facility, reported by the New York Times on Tuesday, where asylum seekers were allegedly captured and beaten, before being expelled to Turkey from Greece without being given the chance to speak to a lawyer or claim asylum.