Brussels warns Greece it could take 'formal steps' over latest illegal migrant pushback allegations

Migrants arrive with a dinghy accompanied by a Frontex vessel at the village of Skala Sikaminias, on the Greek island of Lesbos, on Feb. 28, 2020.
Migrants arrive with a dinghy accompanied by a Frontex vessel at the village of Skala Sikaminias, on the Greek island of Lesbos, on Feb. 28, 2020. Copyright AP Photo/Michael Varaklas
Copyright AP Photo/Michael Varaklas
By Alice Tidey
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The European Commission has called for an independent investigation into allegations authorities carried out an illegal migrant pushback in April and warned it could take "formal steps" against the country.

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Brussels warned on Monday it stands ready to "take formal steps" against Greece over an alleged illegal migrant pushback this year following the release of a New York Times investigation purported to show authorities forcing migrants into a dinghy and abandoning them at sea.

"My services have sent a formal request to Greek authorities that this incident be fully and independently investigated," Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson wrote on Twitter.

"It is necessary that proper follow-up is taken by Greek authorities, also based on the new independent monitoring mechanism and the EU Commission stands ready to take formal steps, as appropriate," she added.

A video filmed on the Greek island of Lesbos on 11 April by Fayad Mulla, an activist, and shared by the New York Times last week shows a group of 12 asylum seekers including children and a 6-month-old baby being transferred from an unmarked van to a Greek Coast Guard vessel and eventually into an inflatable raft left abandoned in the middle of the Aegean Sea.

This would constitute an illegal pushback and violate EU and international law.

Contacted by Euronews, the Greek government declined to comment.

NGOs have for years accused Greek authorities of carrying out such pushbacks, which Athens has always denied. Investigations carried out by Greek authorities into such accusations had cleared government agencies of any wrongdoings.

A report from the EU's anti-fraud office, OLAF, leaked late last year however found that Frontex, the bloc's border agency, covered up several pushback instances by Greek authorities in theAegean Sea between 2020 and 2021.

The scandal led the-then Frontex chief to resign with his successor, Hans Leijtens, telling reporters at the start of the year that as pushbacks are illegal, he would be "responsible for the fact that my people don't participate in anything called a pushback. I think that is absolutely clear. That's the legal framework I work in."

Brussels had meanwhile also demanded that Greece set up an independent monitoring authority to investigate allegations of pushbacks as a condition for the release of EU funding for coast guard operations in the Aegean Sea.

This authority has now been in place for a year and should be the one to investigate the latest allegations.

"There must be an in-depth investigation at national level in order to establish the circumstances that are at play, the veracity of what you have seen, what has been reported on in the (New York Times) article. And then, depending on all of that, we will, of course, take any measures that are necessary and any action that is necessary," a Commission spokesperson said on Monday.

"We are not going to draw conclusions and announce action or activity that we take before becoming aware of the conclusions of that investigation that will be carried out at the national level," the spokesperson added.

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