A long list of horrifying claims of systemic migrant mistreatment by the Greek coastguard

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Published Jun 23, 2024 at 09:00 AM

Reading time: 3 minutes

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An investigation by the BBC has uncovered horrific allegations against the Greek coastguard, accused of causing the deaths of dozens of migrants in the Mediterranean over the past three years. Witnesses claim that these incidents include the deliberate drowning of nine individuals who were thrown into the water. This is not the first time cases of extreme mistreatment by the hands of the Greek police towards asylum seekers have come to light. Let’s take a closer look at these ongoing issues.

These nine victims are among more than 40 people alleged to have died as a result of being forcibly removed from Greek territorial waters or taken back out to sea after reaching Greek islands. BBC analysis identified that 43 deaths occurred across 15 incidents from May 2020 to 2023, based on reports from local media, NGOs, and the Turkish coastguard.

Despite the Greek coastguard’s strong denial of any illegal activities, a former senior coastguard officer, shown footage of 12 migrants being loaded onto a Greek coastguard boat and later abandoned on a dinghy, described the act as “obviously illegal” and “an international crime.”

The harrowing investigation has revealed accounts from migrants who allege severe mistreatment by the Greek authorities. In five incidents, migrants reported being thrown directly into the sea. Four of these cases involved migrants who had already landed on Greek islands and were subsequently hunted down.

Others have described being placed on inflatable rafts that deflated or appeared to have been deliberately punctured. One particularly chilling story involved a Cameroonian man who, along with two others, was captured on Samos island and almost beaten to death before being thrown into the sea without a life jacket. While he survived, his companions did not.

Unfortunately, this pattern of mistreatment by Greek law enforcement has been a long-standing concern. In 1994, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) reported that many individuals in police custody endured severe ill-treatment, with some cases amounting to torture.

Despite numerous visits and reports, the CPT publicly criticised the persistent lack of improvement on 15 March 2011, specifically regarding the detention conditions of irregular migrants. By 2014, the situation had not improved, prompting the CPT to express concerns about the police response, highlighting that the lack of action by authorities had fostered a culture of impunity among officers.

Reports from Amnesty International have been denouncing the matter, along with unprecedented charges against law enforcement personnel at Amygdaleza detention centre, highlighting yet again that very little has changed.

Last summer, a viral video on social media showed asylum seekers cable-tied and blindfolded in the back of a van on a Greek holiday island. Initially, the video’s authenticity was questioned, leading Theodosis Nikitaras, the mayor of Kos, to file a defamation suit against the NGO that published it.

However, new documents from the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) confirmed the incident and implicated individuals likely collaborating with Greek authorities. The short video, published by the Aegean Boat Report NGO on 26 June 2023, depicts the same day’s events and has since been viewed by over 660,000 people on X.

The NGO, which frequently reports human rights abuses at Greece’s sea borders with Turkey, received the video from the asylum seekers in the van, including a child and several Palestinians who had arrived from Turkey to Kos.

This grim reality is happening against a backdrop of rising right-wing conservative influence in Europe, where political forces increasingly champion anti-immigration policies. Despite their efforts, these policies are failing miserably, as desperate people continue to die attempting to reach safer shores. The Greek government’s aggressive stance on immigration, fuelled by a lack of humanity and political racism, is exacerbating the crisis. Instead of deterring migration, these harsh tactics have led to greater human suffering and loss of life.

Last year, UN experts called out Greece, urging the country to adopt safe and impartial border protection policies and practices while condemning the lack of accountability for violations involving Greek law enforcement personnel.

“We urge Greece to take steps to ensure a transparent and impartial investigation into allegations of violations of the principles of non-refoulement and non-discrimination and the right to life involving Greek law enforcement personnel, including the Hellenic Coast Guard, and border violence,” the UN experts stated. They expressed particular concern over the failure to provide prompt and effective assistance to migrants in distress and to ensure safe disembarkation and adequate reception of migrants.

The urgent need for accountability and reform within the institutions responsible for these tragic outcomes is clear. As right-wing rhetoric continues to gain traction, it is crucial to remember the human cost of such policies.

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