Greece criticised by UN and Council of Europe over abuse of migrants

The United Nations’ refugee agency (UNHCR) and the Council of Europe (CoE) have both criticised Greece’s treatment of migrants entering the country from Turkey, according to Voice of America on Saturday.

The CoE’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) published a report that said Greece had repeatedly pushed back migrants, forcing them to return to Turkey. 

VoA said that “forcing migrants to turn around is a serious breach of international law, violating asylum-seekers’ right to safe passage and protection.”

Other EU countries such as Croatia, France, Spain and Italy have also been criticised for similar actions violating the right of refugees to safe passage.

The criticism comes after a report by the EU Observer who published emails from EU border agency Frontex showing that Danish coast guard officers assisting Greek authorities refused to comply with orders from Greek authorities to force a boat of migrants to return to Turkey.

Fabrice Leggeri, head of Frontex, had called the incident a “misunderstanding” and an “isolated incident last month.

UNCHR’s senior communications officer Peter Kessler said in a statement that “UNHCR calls on Greece to continue rescuing, providing immediate support and registering new arrivals seeking protection. UNHCR firmly reiterates its call on Greece to refrain from any practices that may involve informal returns of people to Turkey after they have reached Greek soil or territorial waters.”

Kessler also accused Greece of underreporting migrant arrivals, which would allow local authorities to ignore their treaty duties to protect refugees and push them back to Turkey.

Athens has denied accusations that it has illegally returned or abused migrants, saying the criticism is part of an “unsubstantiated fake news campaign" carried out by Turkey.

In February, Turkey abandoned its bargain with the EU to try to keep migrants from leaving its territory as part of a 2016 deal in return for European aid. Thousands of migrants then attempted to cross into Greek territory.

The CoE report said migrants had been exposed to violence from Greek security forces, and that “Migrants continue to be held in detention centers composed of large barred cells crammed with beds, with poor lighting and ventilation, dilapidated and broken toilets and washrooms, insufficient personal hygiene, inadequate food and no access to outdoor daily exercise.”

Human Rights Watch has also called the conditions for migrants detained by Greece “unacceptable”.