The timeline of a pushback of a Syrian refugee in Evros, as documented by RSA

The timeline of a pushback of a Syrian refugee in Evros, as documented by RSA

Greek authorities unlawfully pushed a group including Syrian refugee back to Turkey through the Evros land border, while a procedure for interim measures was pending before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

On 13 October 2021, Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) was informed that M.A., a Syrian national, was lost without food or water in a forest in the Evros area along with a group of people including three children, and was trying to submit an asylum application. MA asked his brother – who is a registered asylum seeker in Greece whose procedure is represented by RSA– to find legal assistance and expressed fear of refoulement to Turkey and then to Syria. During his recent stay in Turkey, M.A. was reportedly removed by the Turkish authorities to his home country after being forced to sign documents without being informed of the contents thereof.

That same morning, RSA sent an email to the Hellenic Police, the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) of Fylakio, and UNHCR, informing them of M.A.’s location on the Greek territory and of the expression of his intention to seek international protection in Greece. As per the written application, the applicant “also expresses fear of return to Turkey where he risks being sent back to Syria, as has previously happened in his case.” Two hours later, while no response had been provided by the Greek authorities, contact between MA and his brother was lost. RSA wrote again to the Hellenic Police and reiterated the request for information on the applicant’s arrest and place of detention.

Subsequently, while still no response had been received by the authorities, RSA filed before the ECtHR a request for interim measures under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court, to ensure the Greek authorities provide information on the applicant’s whereabouts, allow him contact with his lawyer and refrain from any forcible removal from the territory until his asylum claim is registered and processed. On the same day, the Court decided to adjourn its decision on interim measures and called upon the Greek government to respond by 15 October 2021 to the following questions:

“1. What are the current whereabouts of the applicant? Has the applicant been apprehended by the Greek authorities? Is he currently in detention in Greece? Is his removal from Greece planned?

2. In the affirmative, has the applicant made an application for asylum in Greece? If not, would it be open for him to do so? Did the applicant have access to any legal assistance?”

However, by the evening hours of 13 October 2021, MA and the rest of the group had already been unlawfully returned to Turkey, in stark contempt of the procedure initiated by the ECtHR. As reported by M.A. to his brother, upon their apprehension in early afternoon, men in uniforms confiscated their mobile phones. They ignored their explicit requests for international protection, stripped them completely of their clothes and ill-treated them, including MA. The group was held incommunicado without any registration in two detention sites, where they were stripped naked and were only given back their underwear. They were subsequently transferred to the river, forced on a boat, driven by two masked officers, and left helpless inside Evros river near a small strip of land in the river. The group has managed to skip arrest from Turkish authorities and stay in hiding in Turkey.

On 14 October 2021, the Greek authorities replied to RSA that MA and the rest of the group had never been located in the Evros area.

The context in which the case arose bears similarities with consistent accounts of push backs of refugees at the Evros border over recent years, strongly highlighted inter alia by various United Nations agencies and mechanisms (UNHCR, IOM, WGAD, CAT, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants) and Council of Europe bodies (CPT, PACE, Commissioner for Human Rights).[1]

RSA has strongly criticised the practice of push backs in Evros and the Aegean Sea, which violate national, European and international law standards, as well as the rule of law itself. RSA has repeatedly stressed that Turkey is not a safe third country for refugees.

Inhuman and degrading treatment of newcomers by the State cannot be justified by any European policy and cannot be used as a deterrence measure at European borders.

Notes

[1]        United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), ‘UNHCR calls on Greece to investigate pushbacks at sea and land borders with Turkey’, 12 June 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2GKCqXH; International Organisation for Migration (IOM), ‘IOM Alarmed over Reports of Pushbacks from Greece at EU Border with Turkey’, 10 June 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3dkEIsh; United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), Preliminary Findings from its visit to Greece (2 – 13 December 2019), available at: https://bit.ly/38HPAfV; United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT), Concluding Observations on the seventh periodic report of Greece, CAT/C/GRC/CO/7, 3 September 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2wKiqPm; United Nations Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on the human rights of migrants, ‘Greece: Rights violations against asylum seekers at Turkey-Greece border must stop – UN Special Rapporteur’, 23 March 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2FnG7BG; European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), Report to the Greek Government on the visit to Greece from 10 to 19 April 2018, CPT/Inf (2019) 4, 19 February 2019, available at: https://rm.coe.int/1680930c9a; Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Pushback policies and practice in Council of Europe member States, 14909, 8 June 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3j2e4FX; Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Report of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe Dunja Mijatović following her visit to Greece from 25 to 29 June 2018, CommDH(2018)24, 6 November 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2Opvm05.

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