In a letter addressed to the Minister for Citizens’ Protection, the Minister of Migration and Asylum, and the Minister of Shipping and Island Policy of Greece, made public today, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, urges the Greek authorities to put an end to pushback operations at both the land and sea borders with Turkey, and to ensure that independent and effective investigations are carried out into all allegations of pushbacks and of ill-treatment by members of security forces in the context of such operations.
These practices, which have been widely reported and documented for several years, prevent the persons who are returned at the border without individual identification or procedure from putting forward reasons why such a return would violate their rights, and from applying for protection. “In such cases, member states cannot satisfy themselves that they are not sending individuals back in violation of, for example, Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the refoulement prohibition in the UN Refugee Convention”, underlines the Commissioner. “Moreover, the way in which these operations are reportedly carried out would clearly be incompatible with Greece’s human rights obligations”, she adds.
Noting the role civil society organisations play in reporting and documenting pushbacks, the Commissioner expresses concern about reported attempts to discredit the work of NGOs protecting the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants and cumbersome registration procedures which risk not only weakening these organisations, but also affecting thousands of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants who often depend on their work to secure basic rights on a daily basis. She calls on the Greek authorities to actively create and maintain an enabling legal framework and a political and public environment conducive to the existence and functioning of civil society organisations.
With particular reference to reception conditions, the Commissioner stresses that action to improve the lingering substandard living conditions in the Reception and Identification Centres must not be delayed and that all appropriate standards must be met, and overcrowding prevented. With the new reception facilities reportedly set to operate as closed centres, the Commissioner is concerned that this will lead to large-scale and long-term deprivation of liberty. She urges the Greek authorities to reconsider the closed nature of these centres, in order to ensure that the regime applicable to these facilities safeguards the freedom of movement of their residents, in line with the relevant Council of Europe standards.
Finally, the Commissioner reiterates that the policy of containment of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants on the Aegean islands lies at the heart of many of the long-standing problems Greece has experienced in protecting the rights of these persons. “I strongly hope that the new reception centres will not stand in the way of actively reconsidering this policy”, she concludes.