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Evidence emerges of asylum seekers' mistreatment in Greece, despite government’s denial

In this Thursday, March 5, 2020, file photo, a migrant holding a baby pauses on the side of the road while walking to the village of Skala Sikaminias, in Lesbos.
In this Thursday, March 5, 2020, file photo, a migrant holding a baby pauses on the side of the road while walking to the village of Skala Sikaminias, in Lesbos. Copyright Alexandros Michailidis/Copyright 2020 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Alexandros Michailidis/Copyright 2020 The AP. All rights reserved
By Giulia Carbonaro
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A video shared by an activist with The New York Times shows evidence of asylum seekers being put on rafts and abandoned in the middle of the sea after reaching Greece's borders.

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Footage shared by an activist with The New York Times appears to show evidence of asylum seekers' mistreatment in Greece - a long-time accusation against the country’s border patrol officers which the government has consistently denied.

The video, which has been verified by the American newspaper, shows a group of 12 asylum seekers including children and a 6-month-old baby on the Greek island of Lesbos - a well-known hotspot for migrant arrivals. The date is 11 April.

The footage, filmed at a distance by Fayad Mulla, shows the migrants coming out of an unmarked van in an isolated-looking road, only to then be pushed onto a speedboat by two men wearing what appeared to be ski masks. The asylum seekers were then transferred to a Greek Coast Guard vessel and eventually abandoned in the middle of the Aegean Sea aboard an inflatable emergency raft.

Such behaviour - which has been contested and condemned by several migrant rights activists and lawyers, but which Greek authorities have never recognised - is in violation of Greek, EU and international law. 

The 12 migrants were pushed back at sea on board the dinghy shortly after reaching Greek soil, according to The New York Times. All had been travelling for years to escape war in the Horn of Africa, coming from countries including Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia.

“We didn’t expect to survive on that day,” one of the migrants in the video, a 27-year-old from Somalia, told the newspaper. “When they were putting us on the inflatable raft, they did so without any mercy.”

The raft they were put on was later picked up by the Turkish Coast Guard.

The Greek government has consistently denied mistreating migrants reaching its land. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis recently praised the country’s migration policies, saying they had reduced illegal migrants arrivals by 90%. The government has not replied to a request for comment from the American newspaper.

The European Commission said it was “concerned by the footage” and said it would discuss the issue with Greek authorities.

Last year, Frontex's former boss Fabrice Leggeri resigned after initial findings of an OLAF investigation revealed that the EU agency’s guards covered up the illegal pushbacks of migrants at the border on a massive scale in a violation of human rights between 2020 and 2021.

The OLAF review found that at least six pushbacks involved Greek coastguard ships that had been co-financed by Frontex.

The new head of the EU's border agency, Hans Leijtens, has vowed to end illegal pushbacks.

This article has been updated as it first erroneously said that the footage had been given to the New York Times by an anonymous activist.

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