The Legal Centre Lesvos has filed a suit in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) accusing the Hellenic Coast Guard of unlawfully pushing refugees and migrants back to sea.
The suit focuses on 11 Syrian nationals who were part of a group of 180-200 people violently expelled from Greece to Turkey on 20-21 October 2020.
The Legal Centre Lesvos AMKE is a civil non-profit organisation, registered in Greece and previously operative as a restricted fund under the auspices of Prism the Gift Fund (UK).
“The group was navigating on board a fishing boat, with the intention of seeking asylum in Italy when they fell into distress at sea on the morning of 20 October 2020, near the island of Crete, prompting them to request assistance from the Greek authorities and the UNHCR. Under instruction of the Hellenic Coast Guard, they entered Greek territorial waters, and with the promise of being rescued they waited there for over five hours. As shown in video footage, far from being rescued or provided with food, water or safety equipment, the group was instead violently attacked, by surprise, at night, by masked ‘Commandos’ in black uniform without insignia, operating from Hellenic Coast Guard vessels, who assaulted them, stole their belongings, and threatened them with further violence if they attempted to return to Greece. The group was then forcibly transferred to two different Hellenic Coast Guard vessels on which they were forced to spend the night outdoors, without food, water or any assistance, before being abandoned on 21 October on various motorless, unseaworthy, life rafts near the Turkish Coast,” according to the statement.
The suit is the fifth LCL has filed at the ECHR in recent years to allege violations of migrant and refugee rights in Greece.
“The illegal acts committed by Greek authorities in this case are not isolated and instead form part of an ongoing systemic and widespread practice implemented by the Greek authorities over the last year (in particular since March 2020), which amount to crimes against humanity. Despite extensive evidence, reports, investigations and denunciations at both national and international levels, the Greek authorities continue to deny that pushbacks are taking place,” it added.
Earlier this month, Greece’s Migration & Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi sent a letter to European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas and Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johannson, as Turkish vessels continue to escort inflatable migrant boats towards European borders.
The letter emphasises, among other things, that “it is a well-established fact that these migrants departed the Turkish coast, and given that they were under close observation and escort by Turkish vessels, the conclusion is that they were not being persecuted, and their lives were not in danger.”
He was backed by Greek Coast Guard data showing Turkish support of these failed attempts at illegal crossings.
“It is beyond doubt that the Turkish authorities continue to support the passage of migrants, with the clear aim of creating propaganda through the media, putting pressure on the EU’s external borders and thus seeking to escalate with Greece,” he continued.
The Minister stressed that Greece “does not tolerate illegal migrant crossings orchestrated by Turkey,” and called on the European Union “to react in a coordinated manner to such actions, which do not specifically target one member state, but the EU as a whole.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel are scheduled to visit Turkey this week, where they will meet President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.