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European Commission Should Defend Asylum Seekers' Rights

Groups File Complaint Against Abusive Migrant Pushbacks, Asylum Law in Greece

The Greek Coast Guard has been accused of using rescue equipment - namely inflatable, motorless life rafts - to leave asylum seekers and migrants adrift in open water close to the Turkish sea border. May 25, 2020 © 2020 Turkish Coast Guard

What will it take for the European Commission, as the guardian of European Union law, to use its enforcement powers against Greece over its treatment of migrants and asylum seekers?

That’s the question at the heart of Oxfam and WeMove Europe’s complaint filed today to the EU’s executive. The complaint shows that Greece’s laws and policies have systematically violated EU law, and the EU Commission has failed to take decisive action to address the situation.

It’s about time. For years, Human Rights Watch has documented the systematic breach of EU law by Greece’s pushbacks at sea and its land borders with Turkey, inhuman and degrading detention and reception conditions for those reaching its territory, including in EU-mandated “hotspots” on the Aegean Islands, and problematic asylum laws and practices when it comes to seeking protection in Greece.

In July, we documented dangerous pushbacks at sea and often-violent collective expulsions of people picked up by Greek police hundreds of kilometers away from the Turkish border, and outside any due process. We documented similar situations in 2008, 2015, 2018, and March 2020. Officials in Brussels have remained largely silent in response to this mounting evidence of illegal practices, including from numerous other nongovernmental groups and international bodies.

Greece has also repeatedly created obstacles for people who may be in need of protection to access asylum, including most recently under the pretext of the Covid-19 pandemic. Denying people the fundamental right to seek asylum is in breach of EU law. The Greek Asylum Law also includes many provisions that threaten rights guaranteed by EU standards, undermine access to protection, and expose asylum seekers to greater risks of deportation and longer periods of detention.

The European Commission is set to release its new Pact on Migration and Asylum tomorrow. If the EU wants to demonstrate that the pact is a new start for a more humane and rights-respecting migration policy, the Commission should show more readiness to hold to account member states when, like Greece, they flout protection standards with practices such as pushbacks.

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