Fifty-three asylum seekers, comprising Kurds and Turks fleeing a crackdown on non-loyalist citizens in Turkey, were attacked and forcibly returned to Turkey by unidentified, knife-wielding men along the Greek border at Evros on Thursday, relatives of the victims told Turkish Minute.
On Thursday videos emerged on Twitter showing men, women and children claiming to be assaulted by the masked individuals.
Videos on Twitter show Turkish asylum seekers in Orestiada, Greece, screaming for help. They say they are fleeing a crackdown by President Erdoğan and are being attacked by masked men with knives. Rights activists call for urgent action from @hellenicpolice and EU authorities. pic.twitter.com/PRdpIdzZvb
— Turkish Minute (@TurkishMinuteTM) June 22, 2023
Prior to the release of the videos, asylum seekers had recorded pleas for shelter from the Greek government, saying they had fled political repression from the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Türkiye’den 10 çocuk 1 bebek 50 yetişkin Yunanistan ın Orestiada bölgesine geçtiler. Lütfen deport edilmemeleri için yardımcı olalım.Don't #pushback! @UNHCRGreece @migrationgovgr @MigrationGrInfo @Refugees @euronews_tr @ECHR_CEDH @UNHCRGreece@kmitsotakis @nmitarakis pic.twitter.com/6o70g3gEu4
— NO PUSHBACK!!! (@no_deport) June 22, 2023
Following a failed coup attempt in 2016, the Turkish government initiated a massive purge of state institutions, jailing tens of thousands under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. The government has faced criticism for using vague counterterrorism laws to imprison critics and opponents of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), particularly alleged affiliates of the faith-based Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, and Kurdish activists.
This has resulted in thousands of people fleeing Turkey due to a widespread witch-hunt against alleged members of the Gülen movement. As many had their passports revoked by the government, some have sought to leave the country illegally.
On Thursday disturbing videos of asylum seekers in distress prompted social media activists to rally support and call for intervention from Greek and EU authorities to prevent the asylum seekers from being forcibly returned to Turkey.
ASSEDEL (L’Association européenne pour la défense des droits et des libertés), a Strasbourg-based non-profit organization, applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for an interim measure concerning the asylum seekers. The Strasbourg court promptly decided on an interim measure, indicating to the Greek government that the group should not be removed from Greece and should be provided with the necessary care until further notice.
In response to our application in the name of victims, including Kurds and gulenists, facing pushback practices in Greece, the @ECHR_CEDH has decided to indicate to the Government of Greece, under Rule 39, that the applicants should not be removed from Greece. pic.twitter.com/xMbPOFXYBa
— Human Rights Assistance Project (@HRAssistancepro) June 22, 2023
According to victims’ family members, there were originally 61 asylum seekers who had crossed the Evros River and were waiting on the Greek side as directed by smugglers. At around 2:00 p.m. local time, they were reportedly attacked by the masked men. Following the assault, their belongings were seized and they were forcibly transported back across the river to the Turkish side.
Eight of the initial group are still unaccounted for. Turkish authorities have reportedly detained the remaining 53 individuals. Among them, 37 fled prosecution due to alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement, while the rest were politically active Kurds. Meanwhile, claims on social media suggesting the group had been in Greek custody were later refuted by the victims.
Greece has indeed forcibly returned asylum seekers to Turkey, disregarding the interim measure issued by the @ECHR_CEDH. This flagrant violation of Articles 2, 3, 5, and 46 of the Convention is highly disappointing, particularly considering Greece's reputation for upholding IL. https://t.co/IVR2eTLaSp
— Hakan Kaplankaya (@HKaplankaya) June 23, 2023
The Bold Medya news website shared footage of three injured children from the group being transported to a Turkish hospital.
📌Dün Yunanistan'ın Orestiada bölgesinde çetelerin bıçaklı saldırısında ayağına darbe alan Zeynep K. (7), Edirne Eğitim ve Araştırma Hastanesi'ne kaldırıldı.
📌AİHM kararına rağmen geri itilen Hatice-Gürsel Karaca çifti gözaltında tutuluyor. Hatice Karaca'nın travmayı… pic.twitter.com/IJ5bBIR9Dq
— BOLD (@BOLDmedya) June 23, 2023
According to the latest report by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), titled “Pushbacks of Turkish asylum seekers from Greece to Turkey: Violation of the principle of non-refoulement,” the pushbacks, especially of Turkish asylum seekers, violate the principles of international and European Union law, in particular the principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits returning refugees to a country where they would face persecution.