The Real Crimes are Push-backs and Human Rights Violations by the Greek Government

On Monday, the Greek police issued a press release about the criminal investigation into 33 people from four different NGOs and two ‘third country nationals’. Accordingly, a criminal case was filed for the offenses of forming and joining a criminal organization, espionage, violation of state secrets, as well as facilitation of entry (1). Even though the press statement does not name the NGOs or the individuals, there were several media reports stating that the Alarm Phone is among the groups that are targeted (2). For the time being, we refrain from publicly commenting on the ongoing investigation. Instead, we want to point out the real crimes which are ongoing!

The “state secrets” that have been violated are open facts

push-backs, heavy forms of violence including beatings, robbery and shootings, non-assistance, forcing refugees on life-rafts and leaving them drifting in the middle of the sea. These crimes are carried out by bodies obviously belonging to the Greek state. We are not the only witnesses of this alarming development. Several actors have publicly reported about these unlawful actions carried out by the Hellenic Coast Guard at sea and border guards on land: the UNHCR, the Greek Council of Refugees, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other human rights organisations, NGOs, and media outlets. (3)

The same goes for the situation in Moria, which is also mentioned as one of the state secrets in the press release of the Greek police. It is not a secret but a public fact that with European funds and support, Moria stood as the symbol of the EU’s migration policy whose purpose is to deter, trampling human dignity and rights underfoot.

Human rights violations reached a new level in the Aegean Sea since the beginning of March. This escalation in violations went along with acts of repression against NGOs and all sorts of solidarity structures for refugees and migrants. Obviously, the Greek state wants to eliminate witnesses of the crimes against humanity they commit on a daily basis. It is clear that it is bothered by our activity considering that this year alone, the Alarm Phone has witnessed and documented push-backs and serious human rights violations in numerous cases. (4)

We have to note that since the founding of the Alarm Phone six years ago, our relationship with the Hellenic Coast Guard has never been as complicated as it is right now. Since October 2014, we have referred approximately 1,975 cases of people in distress to the Greek Coast Guard and other Greek authorities. On several occasions, our experience was that the Coast Guard tried their best to rescue as quick as possible. We had established a quick and efficient communication that led to rescue operations, which was crucial in times when we received as many as 23 calls per day from boats in distress in the Aegean Sea, and which remains crucial to this day.

At the very beginning of our project, we had openly addressed all Coast Guards, explaining the role and purpose of the Alarm Phone. In this letter from October 2014 we stated: “Our hope is that through our work we can support you in your daily task of saving the lives of migrants. At the same time, we will vigorously denounce any failure to this mission. We hope that your institutions will accept both our contribution and the accountability we demand, which is required of all public institutions.” This is what we have been doing and will continue to do with determination.

The increase of human rights violations and push-backs is not a phenomenon happening locally from Greece towards Turkey alone. In the Alarm Phone, we also witness a trend towards illegal push-backs from Malta and Italy towards Libya and Tunisia in the Central Mediterranean, as well as from Spain towards Morocco in the Western Mediterranean.

We call on those in solidarity with people on the move to raise awareness of and to protest against the crimes against humanity that are perpetrated on a daily basis in the Aegean. Every refugee that is pushed back, every person that is left in an unseaworthy boat, every child that is not rescued in distress is reason enough to stand up and raise one’s voice. We will not be silenced!

(1) http://www.astynomia.gr/index.php?option=ozo_content&lang=%27..%27&perform=view&id=97610&Itemid=2509&lang=

(2) e.g. https://vimapress.gr/telos-sti-drasi-evropaikon-mko-pou-diefkolynan-tin-diakinisi-metanaston-apo-tin-tourkia-sti-lesvo/

(3) Reports about push-backs:

UNHCR: https://www.unhcr.org/news/briefing/2020/6/5ee33a6f4/unhcr-calls-greece-investigate-pushbacks-sea-land-borders-turkey.html

Greek Council of Refugees: https://www.gcr.gr/en/news/press-releases-announcements/item/1028-the-new-normality-continuous-push-backs-of-third-country-nationals-on-the-evros-river

Amnesty International: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur01/2077/2020/en/

Human Rights Watch: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/21/greece-still-denying-migrant-pushbacks

New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/14/world/europe/greece-migrants-abandoning-sea.html

The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/sep/27/catastrophe-for-human-rights-as-greece-steps-up-refugee-pushbacks

CNN: https://edition.cnn.com/2020/09/17/europe/greece-migrants-turkey-intl/index.html

(4) Alarm Phone on push-backs in the Aegean 2020:

https://alarmphone.org/en/2020/03/04/escalating-violence-in-the-aegean-sea/

https://alarmphone.org/en/2020/05/14/push-backs-the-new-old-routine-in-the-aegean-sea/

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