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'Violent and illegal' migrant pushbacks must end now, EU warns Greece

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By Alice Tidey
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Members of human rights and migrant rights groups hold placards in Turkish and English as they gather in front of the Greek consulate in Istanbul,Feb. 5, 2022.
Members of human rights and migrant rights groups hold placards in Turkish and English as they gather in front of the Greek consulate in Istanbul,Feb. 5, 2022.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Emrah Gurel

The European Commission has warned that "violent and illegal deportations of migrants" must stop after Greece was once again accused of carrying out illegal pushbacks.

The warning was delivered by Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson following a meeting last week with Greek ministers.

Johansson flagged then that EU funds are "linked to EU fundamental rights being correctly applied" and welcomed a "new proposal to mainstream fundamental rights" with Greece's asylum system.

"Pleased with their info that this will be in place by 1 September," she also said on Twitter. 

Greece has been accused for years of carrying out illegal pushbacks of migrants at its border with Turkey and at sea. 

NGOs have condemned the violence used with the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor saying that 12 people found dead at the Turkish border in February were "victims of Greek illegal pushbacks and inhumane political games trapping migrants in neglected no man's lands".

Human Rights Watch, another NGO, has said that "Greek authorities, including through proxies they use, are assaulting, robbing, and stripping Afghan asylum seekers and migrants, including children, before summarily pushing them back to Turkey via the Evros River."

A media investigation released earlier this year found evidence that nearly 1,000 migrants were pushed back in the Aegean Sea between March 2020 and September 2021 by Greek authorities and staff from Frontex, the EU's external border agency. 

The scandal led to the resignation of Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri while MEPs refused to approve the agency's budget demanding to see the result of a year-long investigation by the EU's anti-fraud office, OLAF, into alleged human rights violations at the border against migrants.

Athens however has denied any such accusations, criticising the lack of solidarity of other EU member states in dealing with the influx of people.

But it has also lashed out at Ankara, accusing its neighbour of fuelling tensions by letting migrants through the border. It has also reportedly opened investigations against NGO workers, whom they accuse of smuggling.