The Greek migration minister Notis Mitarakis has once again denied claims that Greece is pushing migrants back to Turkey. He called the allegations "fake news," and said the claims were part of a strategy propagated by Turkey.
Notis Mitarakis, the Greek migration minister, has branded allegations of Greek pushbacks "part of the comprehensive fake news strategy" promoted by Turkey -- according to the German news agency dpa.
Mitarakis denied that Greece was pushing migrants back to Turkey or preventing them from applying for asylum within Greece. Dpa reported that Mitarakis told the Greek newspaper To Vima that Turkey was pushing these claims through non-governmental organizations and smugglers’ networks.
Last week, the NGO Mare Liberum said it had documented "close to 10,000 people" pushed back in 2020 alone in 321 documented incidents. They added that 2020 represented an "unprecedented escalation of human rights violations in the Aegean."
Mare Liberum said that the Greek coast guard had conducted many of these alleged pushbacks, claiming that the European border agency Frontex was also involved as well as ships under NATO command.
It is a charge that the Greek government as well as Frontex have repeatedly denied. Mitarakis has stressed that all border protection was carried out "within the framework of international law and European values."
The Turkish government-backed newspaper the Daily Sabah said that Mitarakis added that "investigations by Frontex and the Greek coastguard have not confirmed any of the claims."
Accusations from NGOs
Daily Sabah quoted another NGO based on the Greek island of Lesbos, the Legal Centre Lesvos, which claimed that it had been in contact with "more than 50 survivors of 17 collective expulsions." And another NGO, a Washington-based Syrian rights group calling itself "the Syria Justice and Accountability Center" has filed a case with the International Criminal Court (ICC) asking for an investigation into allegations of Greek pushbacks.
Meanwhile, pressure has been growing on the head of Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri. The EU’s corruption watchdog OLAF is currently investigating allegations of illegal pushbacks of migrants after several news organizations, including German broadcaster ZDF, French newspaper Le Monde and the Corporate Europe Observatory, had gathered evidence purporting to show that Frontex had been courted "by dozens of defense and tech lobbyists in violation of EU transparency rules."
Following various allegations through much of the second half of 2020 against Frontex, the agency launched an internal investigation. At the end of January 2021, it announced that it had not found "enough proof of any rights violations at sea involving Frontex agents."
In that investigation, Frontex said it had examined 13 different cases where there were allegations of pushing migrants back in the Aegean sea between Turkey and Greece. It said five of the cases required "further inquiry...and additional clarifications."
The final report is due to be published with its findings on February 26.