Official reactions and positions on push backs: a timeline

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The following timeline offers a non-exhaustive account of the main responses given and positions taken by representatives of the Greek government, EU institutions and agencies, as well as domestic and international monitoring bodies, in relation to allegations of push backs against refugees and migrants at the Greek-Turkish borders in the course of 2020:

Push backs and violations of human rights at sea: a timeline

  • 4 February 2020


    Minister of Maritime Affairs & Insular Policy interview with Proto Thema: “There are specific rules of engagement (κανόνες εμπλοκής) at sea… the Hellenic Coast Guard cannot [sink boats] or proceed to push backs as it potentially did in previous years… There were cases in the past but at that time… there was no Frontex or NATO presence. In any event… all of the above need to be looked at from a European management point of view.”

  • 3 March 2020


    Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights statement: “I am alarmed by reports that some people in distress have not been rescued, while others have been pushed back or endangered. I recall that the protection of the lives of those in distress at sea is one of the most basic duties which must be upheld, and that collective expulsions constitute serious human rights violations.”

  • 23 March 2020


    United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants statement: “I am very concerned about the reported pushbacks of asylum seekers and migrants, which constitutes a violation of the prohibition of collective expulsions and the principle of non-refoulement.”

  • 8 May 2020


    Government Spokesperson statement: “The Turkish side creates and disperses fake news targeted against Greece. Today they created yet another such falsehood, with injured migrants and one dead supposedly be Greek fire. I categorically deny it… Greek forces executed their mission with absolute success and in full accordance with their orders.”

  • 8 May 2020


    Minister of Migration & Asylum at Parliament debate: [In response to a question on push back reports] “Those incidents you claim to have read about in local websites do not exist as facts for the Government.”

  • 10 June 2020


    International Organisation for Migration (IOM) statement: Deep concern “deeply concerned about persistent reports of pushbacks and collective expulsions of migrants, in some cases violent, at the European Union (EU) border between Greece and Turkey… The Organization calls on Greek authorities to investigate these allegations and testimonies given by people forced to cross the Greece-Turkey border.”

  • 12 June 2020


    United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) statement: “UNHCR has continuously addressed its concerns with the Greek government and has called for urgent inquiries into a series of alleged incidents reported in media, many of which corroborated by non-governmental organizations and direct testimonies. Such allegations have increased since March and reports indicate that several groups of people may have been summarily returned after reaching Greek territory.”

  • 6 July 2020


    Minister of Citizen Protection at LIBE Committee hearing on push backs: Greece has a democratic, progressive government… that applies faithfully international law on human rights and the Geneva Convention… We did not use guns. It was only police measures… There were observers and Frontex is there as well. So you cannot accuse Greece so easily. If there is any allegation, please send it to us, we will look into it.”

  • 6 July 2020


    Alternate Minister of Migration & Asylum at LIBE Committee hearing on push backs: “On 21 July 2019, the Turkish Minister said: ‘if Turkey were to open the floodgates of migrants, no European country would be stable after six months’. We have had tens of declarations like that ever since, we have had direct threats and blackmail of Europe. What was your reaction when an undemocratic regime effectively announced that they were going to use these desperate people in order to achieve their geostrategic and geopolitical goals? It is hypocritical that we are now called to apologise, ex post, because we were the shield of the EU. You have to decide: What is the role of a country on the frontline that at any time can become the victim of an orchestrated attempt to use migrants and refugees in order to achieve geopolitical goals? Are we going to act as a shield or are we going to have to answer if we act as a shield?”

  • 6 July 2020


    European Commissioner for Home Affairs at LIBE Committee hearing on push backs: “All allegations must be investigated and we expect the national authorities to do so. The Commission has no power to investigate, but we expect Member States to investigate to establish the facts and to follow up on any wrongdoing.”

  • 6 July 2020


    Frontex Director at LIBE Committee hearing on push backs: “[on the Danish crew incident in March 2020] there was clearly, apparently, a misunderstanding of the Operational Plan… locally an officer of the Hellenic Coast Guard has not understood correctly the Operational Plan and this would not happen again… This was the only case within the implementation of the Operational Plan.”

  • 9 July 2020


    National Commission for Human Rights statement: The Commission urged authorities “to effectively investigate allegations of informal push backs… to guarantee the collection of objective data via the use of technological equipment and other forms of operational action” and called for the “creation of an official, independent mechanism on recording and follow up to push back allegations.”

  • 10 July 2020


    European Commission President letter to the European Parliament: “The Commission does not have the competence to carry out an investigation itself into the actions of national authorities… Towards the Commission and in public… the Greek authorities firmly maintained that no such incident was caused by actions of Greek forces.”

  • 14 August 2020


    Government Spokesperson response to New York Times report on push backs: “Greek authorities do not engage in clandestine activities…Greece has a proven track record when it comes to observing international law, conventions and protocols. This includes the treatment of refugees and migrants”

  • 15 August 2020


    Ministry of Migration & Asylum response to New York Times report on push backs: “we will continue to protect vigorously the borders of the European Union as provided by national and European law. We strongly deny claims made to the contrary. We note that the Turkish Coastguard is mentioned as a source.”

  • 19 August 2020


    Prime Minister interview with CNN: “These types of reports are an insult to our Coast Guard… All these reports originate from the same source… essentially originate from Turkey… some of these reporters who do this type of exploratory journalism should be more careful in checking those sources… If there is an incident of behaviour that is not in line with what we have told our Coast Guard to do, it will always be investigated.”

  • 21 August 2020


    UNHCR statement: “UNHCR is particularly concerned about the increasing reports, since March 2020, of alleged informal returns by sea of persons who, according to their own attestations or those of third persons, have disembarked on Greek shores and have thereafter been towed back to sea. Worryingly, UNHCR has also received reports and testimonies about people being left adrift at sea for a long time, often on unseaworthy and overcrowded dinghies, waiting to be rescued.”

  • 21 August 2020


    Ministry of Migration & Asylum response to media reports on push backs: “We are witnessing a systematic attempt to misrepresent facts in order to promote certain objectives. Therefore greater caution is needed in assessing those reports as truthful and reliable”

  • 2 September 2020


    Minister of Maritime Affairs & Insular Policy press conference: “Since the beginning of the year, more than 10,000 people have been prevented from entering… In August alone, we had 68 prevention cases and succeeded in preventing 3,000 persons from arriving in our country.”

  • 23 October 2020


    Frontex announcement that the Greek authorities have notified the Agency of the launch of an internal investigation into push back allegations.

  • 27 October 2020


    Frontex announcement of internal inquiry into push back allegations in Greece. Director stated: “We aim to uphold the highest border guarding standards in all of our operations and do not tolerate any violations of the fundamental rights in any of our activities”

  • 28 October 2020


    European Commissioner for Home Affairs call for an Extraordinary Frontex Management Board meeting on 10 Nov 20 to discuss push back allegations in the Aegean Sea.

  • 28 October 2020


    Minister of Migration & Asylum statement: “We are clear, and always have been, that Greece does not participate in so called push-backs. We protect our borders in line with international law… We welcome @ylvajohansson convening @frontex meeting to review so-called pushback allegations in order to set the record straight.”

  • 6 November 2020


    IOM statement: “International media reports and footage showing the use of marine rescue equipment to expel migrants across the Eastern Aegean Sea are especially disturbing. IOM, together with partners, are closely monitoring the situation and have received reports of migrants being arbitrarily arrested in Greece and pushed back to Turkey and violence perpetrated against migrants by some border personnel.”

  • 9 November 2020


    Minister of Migration & Asylum interview with InfoMigrants: “we are protecting our borders, but we are protecting our borders in line with what international law and European law expects us to do. Actually I think there is already a letter dated October 27 from Frontex saying there is no allegation of pushbacks from Greece. And I am very happy that further investigation is taking place so that we can finish with this debate very soon.”

  • 10 November 2020


    Government at Extraordinary Frontex Management Board meeting: Representatives were blindsided by “hostile” stance of European counterparts and stated that “only Hungarian representatives openly supported the Greek position.”

  • 10 November 2020


    European Ombudsman inquiry opened into Frontex complaints mechanism

  • 18 November 2020


    European Committee on Torture (CPT) report on Greece: “The evidence supporting the case that migrants are pushed back across the Evros River to Turkey after having been detained for a number of hours, without benefiting from any of the fundamental guarantees, by Greek officers operating in an official capacity is credible.  The onus is now upon the Greek authorities to ensure that this practice ends once and for all, and that any officers (police or military) operating outside of official command structures are held to account and sanctioned accordingly.”

  • 18 November 2020


    Government reply to the CPT report on Greece: “The alleged practice of military and police officers operating outside the official administrative facilities and secretly assisting in carrying out supposed push backs to the border is unsubstantiated and completely wrong. No complaint or evidence has come to our knowledge about this”

  • 26 November 2020


    Government at Frontex Management Board meeting: As regards the new Management Board Working Group on push backs investigation, representatives described participating countries Sweden, Norway and Switzerland as “hostile” to Greece, and Hungary and Romania as supportive.

  • 26 November 2020


    Frontex Director at Frontex Management Board meeting: the Agency has “completed two key steps for the investigation of push back allegations in the Eastern Mediterranean by conducting our own internal investigation and replying to further questions by the Management Board.”

  • 28 November 2020


    German SPD Spokesperson call for the withdrawal of the German Federal Police from Frontex Operations in the Aegean Sea on account of push back allegations.

  • 1 December 2020


    Frontex Director at LIBE hearing: “In the system of the European Union, if a government, if a minister sends a letter to the director of an EU Agency and says ‘everything was according to the law’, I cannot say ‘I don’t trust you because you are the government of this Member State.’”

    “There are some notions like prevention of departure. The common factor in the… reports, which are not Serious Incident Reports, was that there are interceptions but no search and rescue situation was declared.” The Director added that the cases referred to in the media were not search and rescue cases.

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  • 8 December 2020


    Government response to Der Spiegel report on Lesvos push back incident: authorities “refrained from commenting on the specifics, repeating the mantra that they always act in accordance with the law.”

  • 9 December 2020


    DG of DG HOME at Frontex Management Board meeting once again stressed the need to carry out a rapid but thorough enquiry into the allegations and reports, with a view to establishing the facts and to maintaining the reputation and operational capacity of the Agency.

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Push backs and violations of human rights at sea: a timeline

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