CoE Commissioner urges Greece not to send Turkish asylum seekers back

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Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks on Wednesday expressed concern about reported collective expulsions from Greece of asylum-seeking Turkish nationals, urging Greek authorities to immediately cease the pushback operations.

“I am very concerned about reported collective expulsions from Greece of asylum seeking Turkish nationals. Allegedly, Greek security forces have summarily returned to Turkey several people, including one journalist, in recent days, thus preventing them from seeking and enjoying asylum,” said Muiznieks in a statement he shared on social media.

“I urge the Greek authorities to cease immediately the pushback operations and uphold their human rights obligation to ensure that all people reaching Greece can effectively seek and enjoy asylum.”

Underlining that Greece has been under immense migratory pressure in recent years and the help received from other EU member states has been far from effective in alleviating both this pressure and the suffering of refugees in the country, the CoE commissioner said: “However, even in particularly challenging situations, states cannot resort to practices -– such as collective expulsions — which are not in compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights and the non-refoulement principle enshrined in the UN Refugee Convention.”

A group of people who were detained on Friday by Turkish gendarmes said they were sent back to Turkey after they crossed the river to Greece, TGRT reported on Saturday, the second such recent incident after journalist Murat Çapan, who had been sentenced to 22.5 years for two news stories, and others were returned home by Greece last month.

Ten individuals who were investigated as part of a witch hunt targeting people linked to the Gülen movement, including noncommissioned officer Halil Kumcu, Assistant Professor Fatih İlkaya, teachers Yılmaz Erdoğan, Fethullah Çatal and Mustafa Can, his wife Hatice Can and their four children were detained on the banks of the Maritza River on Saturday.

According to their testimonies, the group crossed the river to Greece three days ago and were sent back to Turkey by Greek security forces in the same boat.

Kumcu, Can and Çatal were arrested by a court, while the processing by police of İlkkaya and Erdoğan is still continuing. Hatice Can and the four children were released under judicial probation.

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) reported last Thursday that another unofficial refoulement from Greece to Turkey took place on the Maritza River on May 24.

According to the information gathered by FIDH, “Murat Çapan, managing editor of Nokta magazine, was prosecuted and finally sentenced in absentia to 22,5 years in prison for participation in a terrorist group and attempting to overthrow the constitution. He crossed the river Evros to the Greek side at 06:00 in the morning on May 24th, 2017, along with two of his friends.

“They reached Didymoteicho where they were picked up by police officers and [led] to the police station. There they asked to apply for asylum. In the police station there was also a Turkish family with three children that had crossed [the] Evros. After a while they were told they would be transferred to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and were put in a white unmarked van.

“After a while the van met [up] with another car and they were [led] to a field. A group of five masked gunmen, dressed in camo, [led] them to the river without saying a single word. The Turkish nationals saw that there was an inflatable boat waiting there and they repeated their demand to apply for asylum.

“Their hands were bound and they were all put on the boat which crossed to the opposite shore with two of the masked gunmen, near an outpost of the Turkish army, where they were abandoned. After a while, they were found by Turkish police officers. Murat Çapan is already in prison, with everything this entails. The family is likewise in detention.”

FIDH stated that “the refoulement to the Turkish authorities of people that are in danger of severe violations of their most basic human rights, if it has indeed taken place, is a blatant violation of international law and it is clear it was not the initiative of the local police force.”

FIDH has also demanded an immediate investigation into the incident and concrete answers from the relevant ministers concerning the policy that is in effect at the borders. Also it said the Human League for Human Rights has already sent an official notice to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees demanding an investigation into the incident.

Turkey survived a military coup attempt on July 15 that killed over 240 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

According to a report by the state-run Anadolu news agency on May 28, 154,694 individuals have been detained and 50,136 have been jailed due to alleged Gülen links since the failed coup attempt.

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