Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind: Greece’s Battle With Asylum Seekers Sparks Human Rights Crisis

Since the 2015 and 2016 migration crises, Mediterranean countries have been at the frontline of dealing with millions of refugees fleeing war, poverty, and persecution from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. While it’s unknown how many asylum seekers cross through Greece undetected each year, according to Pew Research, Greece was the point of entry for over 850,000 refugees in 2015. The number of asylum seekers reaching Greek soil has fallen significantly over the years as “Greece is no longer experiencing a migration crisis,” said the Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi, in August of last year. However, Greece’s record low numbers of refugees and asylum seekers are said to be the product of man-made efforts. More precisely, Greek authorities have been accused of pushing back more than 42,000 asylum seekers since 2020, aiming to cross into Europe fleeing war and persecution.

In a 2022 Human Rights Watch Report, 26 Afghans were interviewed detailing their experience with being pushed back at Greece’s land border with Turkey. Within the report, Greek authorities were said to assault, rob, and beat asylum seekers and migrants before pushing them back to Turkey. NGOs and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have also collected and published testimonies from asylum seekers who shared similar experiences of being abused and pushed back from Greek territory to protect their own and EU borders.

After meeting the Greek government ministers, the European Union Home Affairs Commissioner, Ylva Johansson, stated, “Protecting EU external border from illegal entry is an obligation. Violent and illegal deportations of migrants must stop, now.” Concerning the violation of fundamental humanitarian values and international laws that caused the death of at least 12 refugees freezing to death due to the pushback at the Turkish border in February 2022, and the method of Greek authorities endangering the lives of vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees, Johansson added that, “funding is linked to EU fundamental rights being correctly applied.”

Evidently, the battle between the Greek government and European Commission dates back to 2008, as Greek authorities pushed back migrants and asylum seekers at the Evros River and the Aegean Sea. Ultimately, while the European Commission must understand that Greece has its own economic worries as international institutions failed to provide adequate support to frontline countries, Greece must halt forceful pushbacks that violate EU laws prohibiting collective expulsions. As such, it is essential for both parties involved to conduct transparent conversations regarding the needs that must be met to ensure the humane treatment of people seeking safety in Greece.