NGO claims Greek authorities are 'pushing back' Syrian refugees

Migrants claim they were beaten on uninhabited island before being cast adrift in Turkish waters

In one incident, refugees say there were detained incommunicado and subjected to severe beatings on an uninhabited island after being apprehended by the Greek authorities before being set adrift in Turkish waters

File photograph of undocumented migrants on a rubber boat in the Aegean, September 2008 (Reuters) File photograph of undocumented migrants on a rubber boat in the Aegean, September 2008 (Reuters) Refugees attempting to enter Greece are being systematically, illegally and, in cases, brutally pushed back by the Greek authorities, in contravention of international law and with the complicity of the European authorities, a German-based human rights organisation said on Thursday.

In a lengthy report based on detailed interviews with refugees, Pro-Asyl said that push backs were occurring on the Greek islands and on the country's land borders and that the majority of victims are Syrian refugees, including vulnerable groups such as children, babies and critically ill patients.

Describing the scale of the human rights violations and the brutality involved as "shocking", Pro Asyl says it has interviewed 90 people who claimed to have been pushed back. The research for the report was conducted between October 2012 to September 2013 in Germany, Greece and Turkey. The organisation estimates that on the basis of the eyewitness accounts of the people it interviewed for the report, at least 2,000 refugees were pushed back from Greece's land and sea border with Turkey.

Most of those interviewed by ProAsyl said they suffered abuse at the hands of the Greek authorities.

The report says that in the Aegean, in almost all cases, the officers involved in the push-back operations wore "black uniforms, carried guns and wore full face-covering masks". In other cases, officers were "wearing blue uniforms". In Evros they were described either as wearing blue, military green or dark green uniforms, accompanied by some people in plainclothes, and others wearing full face masks.

View Larger Map

In one the incidents detailed in the report, refugees say there were detained incommunicado and subjected to severe beatings on Farmakonisi, an uninhabited island containing a small military base, for up to 3 days after being apprehended by the Greek authorities.

"Once in Farmakonisi, they made us all lie down facing the floor … This lasted for about two hours … They beat us on the face and in the groin area. They were telling: 'Syria, rubbish people'. Whoever tried to talk, they grabbed him from the neck, trying to choke him … They took also the clothes of the other people off and left them in their underwear … He would beat with kicks and punches. Two of them were beating us, by putting us in between them as if we were a football … They beat us for two hours in the basketball court … Some of the people from our group remained unconscious for 3-4 hours in the camp," three of the refugees later recalled.

The 46-strong group, which included men, women and children, were later set adrift in Turkish waters in dinghies without engines, fuels or paddles.

The three who spoke to Pro Asyl say a pregnant woman was kicked during the push-back operation.

They say that at no stage during their detention on Greek soil were they not registered or let alone had the opportunity to apply for asylum.

In another case, an eyewitness claimed: "They took us to the Turkish waters and threw us one by one in our boat. One of us fell in the sea and we picked him up from the water. They threw us as if we were garbage. Then they cut the rope," said another refugee, referring to another incident.


Pro Asyl said that the human rights abuses detailed in the report contrasted totally with the high-level public statements from European leaders in support of Syrian refugees.

Underlining that the European Union bears a share of the responsibility for what is happening on its external borders, ProAsyl says the push backs are preventing Syrian refugees from reaching Europe, where they could hope to apply for international protection or join their families in countries like Germany, Sweden and the UK.

The report notes that since August 2012, 149 people, mainly Syrian and Afghan refugees, are known to have lost their lives on Greece's sea border with Turkey.

The report also queries whether Frontex, an EU border force, is involved in the push backs.

"With few exceptions, were all documented push backs took place within Frontex's area of operations. Pro Asyl therefore raises the question whether Frontex is involved in human rights violations," the organisation says.

"Because of the frequency and severity of human rights violations in Greece, Frontex must end its operations in the country," it added.

Ahead of Greece assuming the rotating presidency of the European Union, Pro Asyl called on the government to convert its words into actions by increasing its refugee intake and respecting refugee and human rights.

Send with e-mail Print Page

Read also

In category
With tags
Human Rights
Pro Asyl
Related files
Pushed back: Pro Asyl report - 983 KB