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Déjà vu on the Greek-Turkey Border

Long Past Time to Put an End to Brutal Treatment of Migrants, Asylum Seekers

Migrants that crossed the land border between Greece and Turkey are seen at the Pre-Removal Detention Center in the village of Fylakio, Northern Greece, February 24, 2017. © 2017 Alexandros Avramidis /Reuters

Ten years ago, I documented a systematic pattern of brutal Greek border police pushbacks of migrants and asylum seekers at the Evros River border that divides Greece and Turkey. Last week, as I edited a new Human Rights Watch report, I felt as though I was re-reading my old report.

Here’s a paragraph from my 2008 report, “Stuck in a Revolving Door”:

Summary forcible expulsions across the Evros River by Greek police and security forces are routine and systematic… [These are] the main elements in almost all testimonies: …1) being held for several days to a week at a police station in a border town in dirty, overcrowded conditions, where detainees are often mistreated and sometimes beaten; 2) being trucked in groups of 50 to 100 people to the river at nightfall; and 3) after Greek police officials see no sign of Turkish gendarmes on the other side of the river, being put on small boats in groups of 10 and sent across the river.

Now for a paragraph from our new report – ten years later – that I edited:

The 24 incidents described to Human Rights Watch demonstrate a pattern that points to an established and well-coordinated practice…Most of the incidents share three key features: initial capture by local police patrols, detention in police stations or in informal locations close to the border with Turkey, and handover from identifiable law enforcement bodies to unidentifiable paramilitaries who would carry out the pushback to Turkey across the Evros River, at times violently.

While it seems little has changed regarding the thuggery by police and their paramilitary cohorts at its border, Greece now also boasts some of the most appalling, mismanaged, and dangerous refugee camps in the world on its islands. This, too, has been well documented for several years, yet continues unabated.

When will the Greek public say that such abuses are unbefitting the country that claims the title of the cradle of democracy? When will the European public say the same? Are Europeans so intent on preventing irregular migration that they are willing to look the other way as Greek police do their dirty work?

Several years down the line, let’s hope I won’t once again find myself reading new testimonies of brutality on the Greek-Turkey border and wondering if I mistakenly picked up an old report.

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