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MEPs denounce fresh reports of migrant pushbacks at Greece-Turkey border

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By Alice Tidey
Police officers patrol alongside a steel wall at Evros river, near the village of Poros, at the Greek-Turkish border, Greece, May 21, 2021.
Police officers patrol alongside a steel wall at Evros river, near the village of Poros, at the Greek-Turkish border, Greece, May 21, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos

The European Commission must "condemn any use of violence" and ensure the rule of law is respected across member states when it comes to migration, a group of MEPs demanded on Thursday, over fresh reports of illegal pushbacks in Greece. 

In a letter seen by Euronews, the chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), Juan Fernando López Aguilar, denounced "consistent reports referring to dozens of persons seeking international protection pushed back from Greece to Turkey through the land border area of the Evros River."

The letter is addressed to Margaritis Schinas, Commissioner for Promoting the European Way of Life, Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Values and Transparency, and Ylva Johansson, Commissioner for Home Affairs.

Aguilar flagged that the European Court for Human Rights has issued 13 orders of interim measures over the past few weeks, demanding Greek authorities ensure that the persons impacted by the illegal pushbacks be given immediate humanitarian and medical assistance and that they receive be allowed to start the "reception and identification procedures provided by law."

He also expressed concerns over reports that several NGOs on the ground are being investigated for smuggling. "We sincerely hope that this is not going to evolve in a situation by which NGOs providing legal assistance would be criminalised for doing so," he wrote.

"The LIBE Committee considers that the Commission has the duty and the responsibility to condemn any use of violence, to enforce the Union acquis and to take all the necessary measures in order to ensure that the Rule of Law is upheld by the Member States," he went on.

"Hence, we believe that the Commission is responsible to ensure that EU and international law is upheld at the external borders."

Greek authorities however put the blame on Turkey with Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis arguing that "Evros is a militarised area. To cross, this is done with the full acquiescence of the Turkish authorities."

"There is increased tension in Evros. There is what we are seeing, in recent weeks, as they [Turkey] are trying to settle migrants on some islands that have been created on the borderline and then ask Greece to search for them," he is quoted as saying by Greek media.

Greece maintains it has never carried out illegal pushbacks. 

An unpublished report by the EU's anti-fraud watchdog (OLAF) is however believed to have uncovered multiple instances of human rights violations by Greek Border Guards and the bloc's external border agency (Frontex) carried out in the Aegean Sea.

The allegations saw Fabrice Leggeri step down as Frontex chief in late April.

The letter from the LIBE Committee comes as the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) announced on Thursday that the number of people forced to flee their homes because of war, violence, persecution and human rights abuses has reached "the dramatic milestone of 100 million."

"The number of refugees rose in 2021 to 27.1 million. Arrivals climbed in Uganda, Chad and Sudan among others. Most refugees were, once again, hosted by neighbouring countries with few resources. The number of asylum seekers reached 4.6 million, up 11 per cent," the agency said in a statement.