The heated debate over alleged pushbacks of migrants on the Greek-Turkish border continues: After the Greek government denied allegations on Sunday, rights groups on Monday deplored the lack of "an efficient investigation" by Greece.
Half a dozen Greek non-governmental organizations on Monday (February 15) denounced what they said was the lack of an investigation of reports that Greece is illegally pushing migrants back over the border into Turkey.
Their joint statement came a day after Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis once again denied claims that Greece is pushing migrants back to Turkey, calling the allegations "fake news".
The Hellenic League for Human Rights and five other rights groups stressed that the alleged pushbacks -- which have been reported since March 2020 -- were not just illegal but were endangering the lives of migrants.
Deploring the lack of "an efficient investigation" by either the country's justice system or any independent authority, they said they had sent a detailed report to the UN on February 1.
So-called pushbacks refer to the practice of preventing people from seeking protection on their territory by forcibly returning them to another country, generally immediately after they crossed it. They are illegal as they violate international law and human rights, including the principle of non-refoulement and the right of migrants to claim asylum after they crossed a border.
'Practices that endanger human lives'
On Sunday, Mitarakis had dismissed claims that Greece was pushing migrants back to Turkey or preventing them from applying for asylum within Greece. German news agency dpa reported that Mitarakis said that Turkey was pushing these claims through non-governmental organizations and smugglers' networks.
But the six rights groups said the reported incidents "concern practices that even put in danger human lives, in addition to the inhumane treatment of people entitled to international protection."
After the illegal pushbacks, migrants "are then found helpless in rafts, near the Turkish coasts at the absolute risk of their own lives," the NGOs said. The signatories included the Hellenic League for Human Rights and the Greek Council for Refugees.
Last week, human rights group Mare Liberum said it documented close to 10,000 pushbacks in 2020 between the Greek Aegean Islands and Turkey.
Meanwhile, pressure has been growing on Frontex, the European border agency, and its head, Fabrice Leggeri.
Frontex has come under intense pressure and scrutiny in recent weeks and months due to accusations about hushed up human rights violations, fraud, bullying and secret meetings with the arms industry.