Greek authorities have been pushing back to Turkey asylum seekers and migrants in some cases using violence as well as destroying their belongings, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on Thursday.
After reviewing nine cases, the watchdog said that at the time of COVID-19 lockdown, authorities took no precautions to stem the spread of the virus among migrants in custody.
The information on several cases of abuses were collected from hundreds of people pushed back from Greece to Turkey by either Greek authorities or unidentified masked man.
The watchdog said that this is an act of violating Article 4 — prohibition of collective expulsion — of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Eva Cosse, a researcher at the HRW, said: “Instead of protecting the most vulnerable people in this time of global crisis, Greek authorities have targeted them in total breach of the right to seek asylum and in disregard for their health.”
The rights group interviewed 13 victims who gave their account on the violence conducted by the Greek authorities as well as unidentified men pushing back migrants to Turkey violently in March and April.
Six of those, including a 15-year-old unaccompanied girl from Syria, gave their account on the incidents, describing how they were pushed back to Turkey in coordinated attempts.
Once arrived to the Greek islands, they were picked up, placed on large Coast Guard boats, and then forced into smaller inflatable rescue rafts with no motor and cast adrift near Turkish territorial waters, the report noted.
The same allegations were also received by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the HRW quoted an IOM report of June 10.
Two days later, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees urged Greece to investigate those incidents of reported push-backs Greek authorities that returned migrants to Turkey.
The HRW said it sent a letter to Greek police and Coast Guard, and received no response.
The watchdog also urged Greek judicial authorities and the Greek parliament to investigate these reports that put the lives of asylum seekers at risk adding that offices involved should be subject to disciplinary sanctions, as well as determine if those acts are a de facto government policy.
“Greece has an obligation to treat everyone humanely and not to return refugees and asylum seekers to persecution, or anyone to the real risk of inhuman and degrading treatment or worse,” said Cosse in the HRW report.
The European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said these incidents should be investigated and a new system to monitor and verify reports of push-backs should be considered to verify rising number of reports of abuse at the borders.
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