Greek security forces and unidentified armed men at the Greece-Turkey land border have detained, assaulted, sexually assaulted, robbed and stripped asylum seekers and migrants, then forced them back into Turkey, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.
“The European Union is hiding behind a shield of Greek security force abuse instead of helping Greece protect asylum seekers and relocate them safely throughout the EU,” said Nadia Hardman, refugee rights researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch. “The EU should protect people in need rather than support forces who beat, rob, strip and dump asylum seekers and migrants back across the river.”
Between March 7 and 9, Human Rights Watch interviewed 21 asylum seekers and migrants, 17 of whom were men and four women, in Turkey about how they tried to enter Greece over the land border following the Turkish government’s Feb. 27 announcement that it would no longer stop asylum seekers and migrants from leaving Turkey to reach the European Union.
Those interviewed and thousands of others have traveled to Turkey’s Pazarkule border gate on the Greece-Turkey border and to the Evros River, which forms a natural border between Turkey and Greece, to the south of Pazarkule. Eight of the interviewees said Turkish police transported them to border villages and showed them where to cross into Greece.
In response the Greek government reinforced its border with police, army and special forces, which fired teargas and reportedly rubber bullets at people who approached the Pazarkule crossing. Two asylum seekers who spoke to Human Rights Watch said Greek security forces also used live fire to push people back. One of these people, interviewed in a hospital where he was getting treatment, said he was shot in the leg.
According to Turkish officials, Greek security forces have shot and killed at least three asylum seekers or migrants, but Human Rights Watch has not verified this number.
All those interviewed said that within hours after they crossed in boats or waded through the river, armed men wearing various law enforcement uniforms or in civilian clothes, including all in black with balaclavas, intercepted everyone in their group. All said the men detained them in official or informal detention centers, or on the roadside, and stole their money, mobile phones, and bags before summarily pushing them back to Turkey.
Seventeen described how the men assaulted them and others, including women and children, through electric shocks, beating with wooden or metal rods, prolonged beating of the soles of feet, punching, kicking and stomping.
In one case, an interviewee described Greek security forces sexually assaulting his wife when they crossed the border.
“They [Greek security forces] tried to search my wife and touched her breasts,” said a Syrian man who was travelling with his wife and children. “Then they tried to take off her headscarf and her trousers. When I tried to stop them, they beat me really badly with their fists, feet, a heavy plastic rod, and a metal stick. They hit my 2-year-old daughter with a heavy plastic stick on the head so that she still has a bruise.” Human Rights Watch saw a bruise underneath the girl’s hair.
In most cases, the interviewees, said armed men stripped them down to their underwear, including some women, and forced them across the Evros River back to Turkey. Many said they were passed between various groups, suggesting coordination between police or soldiers and the unidentified men.