Police officers patrol along a fence built at Evros River, at the Greek-Turkish border, Greece, 22 August 2021 | Photo: Dimitris Tosidis / EPA
Police officers patrol along a fence built at Evros River, at the Greek-Turkish border, Greece, 22 August 2021 | Photo: Dimitris Tosidis / EPA

An Afghan interpreter for the European border control agency, Frontex, was assaulted by Greek authorities, who mistook him for a migrant. After his arrest, he was forced into a boat on the Evros River, heading for Turkey.

On September 3, while traveling by bus to the Greek city of Thessaloniki, police forced an Afghan interpreter working with Frontex along with a number of migrants off the bus, the New York Times reported on December 1.

The interpreter says he was beaten and stripped, and then taken to an isolated warehouse where "at least 100 other people, including women and children" were being held. His attempts to tell the police who he was were met with laughter and more beatings, he said. They were then all forced onto boats and pushed across the Evros River into Turkish territory.

A member of a team of experts deployed to help border guards communicate with asylum seekers, this man (who asked not to be identified out of concern for his safety and his livelihood) found himself alone in Turkey without a phone, money or papers, which Greek police had seized from him. The man eventually reached Istanbul, where he received consular assistance from the Italian authorities.

Read more: Evros frontier: A militarized no-man's land where 'no one can access migrants'

Allegations

For the American newspaper, "his allegation is particularly problematic for Greek officials because he is a legal European Union resident employed by the EU border agency, Frontex. And he has turned over evidence to the agency to support his claims of abuse, according to European officials dealing with his case".

This incident has forced the European Union not to look away. Instead, they realize they must confront the issue of border violence.

It has already provoked a reaction from the highest levels of the institution. The European Commissioner for Migration, Ylva Johansson, said she spoke with the interpreter. "After direct, in-depth discussion with the person on November 25, I was extremely concerned by his account," said Johansson. "In addition to his personal story, his assertion that this was not an isolated case is a serious issue."

After this discussion, Johansson met with the Greek minister for citizen protection, Takis Theodorikakos. Theodorikakos promised to investigate the interpreter's allegations. But his office said at the same time in a statement that, according to the first investigations carried out, "the facts are not as they are presented."

'Mass stripping'

Accusations such as this are regularly reported by migrants to NGOs and the press. In October, an ex-Greek police officer confirmed to InfoMigrants that he had performed illegal "pushbacks" and had himself sent 2,000 people back to Turkey.

"My colleagues would often call me to warn me that they were coming with migrants. They were usually gathered in groups of about 10. My role was simple: I would get them on my boat, often at nightfall, and take them back to the Turkish coast," he said.

Physical attacks and humiliations are also very regular. In June, the Turkish authorities shared a photo of a small group of migrants who were completely naked. According to them, they had been arrested in Greece, beaten, stripped naked, deprived of food and water, and forcibly returned to the other side of the border.

The process is also documented in a report by the Border Violence Monitoring Network. According to the network of organizations, in 2020, 44% of recorded testimonies describe cases of forced stripping. "Mass stripping, with up to 120 people locked in the same detention area" is common.

Read more: Greece tightens its border with Turkey amid 'tough but fair migration policy'

Unidentified and unclaimed bodies

These practices, though known for many years, have always been refuted by the Greek government. This month, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis once again rejected accusations of abuse of migrants by the country's authorities. He described his migration policy as "tough, but fair."

This policy - coupled with a heavy militarization of the border - is also resulting in deaths.

In Alexandropoulis, near the Turkish border, a Greek coroner is trying to give unidentified dead migrants back their dignity. Between January and October of this year alone, Pavlos Pavlidis autopsied 38 migrant bodies. Every week, the doctor receives emails from desperate families, and he takes the time to answer each of them. Bodies that remain unidentified and unclaimed are sent to an anonymous migrant cemetery in the hills that already has about 200 graves.

 

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