42 migrants pushed back, 12 stripped and beaten by Greece: Turkey’s Defense Ministry

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Turkey’s Defense Ministry has reported that Greek authorities have detained and illegally sent back to Turkey 42 irregular migrants, 12 of whom were stripped beaten, the Bold Medya news website reported on Tuesday.

The ministry indicated that the irregular migrants were allowed to enter the Nazımbey Çiftliği area so that their humanitarian needs could be met upon an order of the Edirne Governor’s Office.

“The interview with the irregular migrants revealed that after they were apprehended by Greek authorities, they were not given any food or water, treated harshly, stripped naked and beaten before being forcibly sent back to Turkey,” the ministry said in its statement.

On June 15 Greece sent back 55 irregular migrants — 44 off the Aegean coast of Dikili and 11 off Çeşme.

The Turkish Coast Guard on June 6 rescued 29 migrants – including seven children — off the coast of Aslanburnu near Foça after they were pushed back by Greek authorities.

Migrants reported that the Greek soldiers had seized their belongings and cellphones before they were forced aboard a lifeboat and pushed back to Turkish territorial waters.

On the same day, 16 asylum seekers were rescued from two inflatable boats by the Turkish Coast Guard after they were sent back by Greece off the coast of Çeşme.

Twenty-seven irregular migrants who were victims of Greece’s pushback policy were rescued on May 25 by the Turkish Coast Guard off the coast of Bodrum.

According to data collected by The Guardian based on reports from United Nations agencies as well as the databases of civil society organizations, European countries pushed back 40,000 migrants, forcibly in most cases, between January 2020 and May 2021, and more than 2,000 migrants died during these pushbacks.

The pushback policy was supported by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) and has become systematic as the migrants, including children, who escaped wars were sent back, the daily reported.

The violence has increased since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, CSO representatives told the daily.

A total of 6,230 pushbacks by Greece took place between January 2020 and May 2021, according to a report by the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN).

A report by Amnesty International published in early June detailed the practices of Greek border forces of violently and illegally detaining groups of refugees and migrants before summarily returning them to Turkey, in a breach of the country’s human rights obligations under EU and international law.

The pushbacks were not limited to border areas as people were also being apprehended and detained far into the Greek mainland before being transported to the Evros region to be illegally returned to Turkey, according to the report.

In February and March 2020, Greece had violently pushed back refugees and migrants in response to Turkey’s unilateral opening of the land border. Documenting incidents from June to December 2020, the Amnesty report had demonstrated that human rights violations at Greece’s borders have become an entrenched practice.

“Our research shows that violent pushbacks have become the de facto Greek border control policy in the Evros region. The level of organization needed to execute these returns, which affected around 1000 people in the incidents we documented, some numerous times and sometimes via unofficial detention sites, shows just how far Greece is going to illegally return people and cover it up,” Amnesty said.

Amnesty spoke to victims who reported that they had experienced or witnessed violence, including blows with sticks or truncheons, kicks, punches, slaps and pushes, from people they described as uniformed Greek officials as well as men in civilian clothing.

Men were often subjected to humiliating and aggressive naked searches, sometimes in the sight of women and children, Amnesty said.

Turkish migrants fleeing Ankara’s crackdown on dissent have also given detailed accounts of pushbacks on Greek soil.

The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accuses the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, of orchestrating an abortive putsch in July 2016. Gülen and the movement members deny any involvement.

Ankara embarked on a wide-scale crackdown on dissent after the coup, dismissing more than 150,000 from their jobs via emergency decree-laws and arresting tens of thousands over alleged affiliation with the Gülen group and the pro-Kurdish opposition.

In addition to the thousands who were jailed, scores of other Gülen movement followers and Kurdish activists had to flee Turkey to avoid the government crackdown.

Ertan R., a former employee of state television channel TRT who was dismissed over alleged Gülen links, was one of the latest victims of pushback as he tried to flee prosecution but faced ill-treatment on Greek soil.

According to the NTV news website, after being pushed back by Greek police and detained by Turkish law enforcement, Ertan said in his testimony that Greek policemen had taken his personal belongings and held his group for hours, denying them basic needs.

“I have no regrets about attempting to flee. What I’m sorry about is the ill-treatment I faced on Greek soil. The Greeks have not proceeded with anything official about us. They illegally sent us back to Turkey. They took our belongings. They strip-searched the women who were with us. We stayed there for hours,” Ertan was quoted as saying.

“The police had their faces covered. We couldn’t see their faces,” he added.

The Ankara 22nd High Criminal Court has ordered Ertan’s arrest.

The threat that awaits dissidents in Turkey who sought safe haven in Europe renders the alleged conduct by Greek officials a violation of the principle of nonrefoulement, enshrined in Article 33(1) of the 1951 UN Convention.

“No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his [or her] life or freedom would be threatened on account of his [or her] race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion,” the article stipulates.

Greece has toughened its migration policy since conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis came to power in 2019.

Border patrols have increased, asylum processes have been speeded up and benefits have been slashed, even for refugees who are granted asylum.

The country has been accused by rights groups of repeatedly pushing back migrants in violation of international law. Government officials have denied the claims.

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