An Iranian woman, now living in Germany, has taken a claim of torture, abuse and pushbacks against Greece to the UN Human Rights Committee.
"My name is Parvin, I left Iran and went to Turkey in 2017," says Parvin in a video statement posted on the European Center For Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) Twitter feed. "And then [I went] to Europe in 2020 alone. On the way, I was pushed back from Greece six times."
Parvin is a 30-year-old Iranian woman who is now living in Germany. With the help of various rights groups, including ECCHR, the research agency Forensic Architecture, an investigative journalism group based at Goldsmiths University in London, and the German news magazine Der Spiegel, her story has just been published.
"I tried to cross the Evros river and across the sea, although I couldn’t swim. Greek officers arrested me and put me in a dirty cell, cargo containers, packing us in with no air, nothing to eat, no toilet. They beat me, kids and also the pregnant woman, and broke our cell phone. They took our food and clothes. I was handcuffed, beaten, shot at, teargassed, tortured and nearly killed."
'It's all done in secret'
In the video, pictures of bruises on Parvin’s body are shown in a short flash sequence. "It’s all done in secret," continues Parvin. "But I managed to take some video and pictures to prove what happened to me, which kind of violence happened to me. And now I want to tell my story."
Parvin says she wants to tell her story because she "wants justice." She says she wants her "human rights recognized. And I want this system to change."
On their website, Forensic Architecture (FA) say they work "in partnership with institutions across civil society, from grassroots activists, to legal teams, to international NGOs and media organizations, to carry out investigations with and on behalf of communities and individuals affected by conflict, police brutality, border regimes and environmental violence."
Also read: Evros border --A militarized no-man's land
Pushed back at the Evros river crossing
The investigation into Parvin’s story was commissioned by the ECCHR and was conducted in collaboration with the Human Rights group HumanRights360. Their investigation is in fact part of a broader investigation into other allegations of pushbacks along the Greek-Turkish border at the Evros /Meric river.
According to FA, "for years, migrants and refugees crossing the Evros /Meric river from Turkey to Greece have testified to being detained, beaten and ‘pushed back’ across the river to Turkey, by unidentified masked men in full secrecy, at night and without being granted access to asylum procedures."
Allegations of pushbacks, notes FA, have been systematically denied by both Greek and EU authorities and they have refused to investigate the reports. It is also difficult for journalists and independent researchers and rights groups to get near the border region. Because of its militarization in the last few years, FA points out that a "restricted 'buffer zone' runs along both banks of the river."
'Operation designed to remove any evidence of human rights violations'
Many migrants who have passed through this zone, or been taken into custody by either Greek border guards or masked men have described to rights groups having their phones and documents taken away from them and often destroyed. FA says this suggests "an operation that is carefully designed to remove any potential evidence of human rights violations."
During her six attempts to claim asylum in the EU, Parvin told FA that she was subjected to violence "spanning detention, torture and summary expulsions," as well as "apprehensions deep inside the Greek mainland, 'drift-backs' in the Aegean Sea and extended periods of detention in quarantine camps in Turkey." Drift-backs in this case refers to the practice of Greek officials abandoning migrants at sea and letting them 'drift back' to Turkey.
FA said that they analyzed Parvin’s recordings of her various attempts "in order to corroborate her testimony and reconstruct her journey."
'Blood streaming down my face'
Parvin told Der Spiegel that after allegedly being beaten with wooden clubs, she felt "blood streaming down my face." On one attempt, February 18, 2020, Parvin says she was travelling with 13 other migrants, mostly from Iran and Afghanistan.
On that attempt, writes Der Spiegel, the group crossed the river Evros near Edirne in Turkey in the dead of night. They hid behind trees, Parvin recalls, but when they came to a clearing, a couple of hours after crossing the border, the border guards had found them.
"Parvin still remembers the headlights that suddenly shone on them. As she lay on the ground, she could see the border guards' boots and hear dogs panting," writes Der Spiegel. Parvin said that the men took her rucksack which had her savings of €1,000 wrapped up in it. She was also made to "hand over her winter jacket and power bank," she says. Her phone escaped confiscation -- Parvin told Der Spiegel that she hid it in her bra and then later in her shoe.
People like Parvin who cross into Greece in the hope of asking for asylum have the right to have their application heard under European and International law. According to Der Spiegel’s investigations, "Greek border guards are systematically violating these laws with the goal of keeping out migrants."
FA comes to the conclusion that "Greece has created a system at the EU’s external border where guards can apparently conduct violence against refugees without having to fear punishment. Lawyers are calling it torture."
Today, Parvin is living in an apartment in the eastern German city of Dresden, writes Der Spiegel. It was on her sixth attempt to get to Greece that she succeeded and subsequently made it all the way to Germany without being caught. Parvin is waiting for the results of asylum application in Germany.
Also read: NGO accuses Greece of pushbacks
Lawyers at ECCHR have been helping Parvin prepare her claim against Greece which is being put before the UN committee. According to Der Spiegel, Parvin alleges that Greek border guards kept her in a cell with a "urine-soaked matress. […] Sewage had seeped into the room from a toilet. It was very dirty and disgusting," remembers Parvin.
The location data from the messages she sent from this cell, notes Spiegel, pinpoint the location of the cell to the Greek village of Neo Chimonio, which is just a few kilometers from the Turkish border.
The investigators say Parvin’s descriptions of the cell and location are "consistent with the outside appearance of the building."
Evidence consistent with that of other testimonies
Parvin says that the Greek authorities did not give her the chance to apply for asylum there, even when she told them she was from Iran. She says nobody would listen to her when she tried to explain she feared for her life.
After being detained in the cell, Parvin says she and the other migrants were taken out by guards and she feared they were going to be strip searched. So she started screaming in Farsi to warn the others, she says. That was when an officer allegedly hit her on the nose with a baton.
At that point, writes Der Spiegel, "Parvin says she was separated from the others and taken to an isolated room." Large wooden sticks were lying on the floor, the room was dark and only a bit of light came through the open door to the corridor, says Parvin.
Pinned to the floor
Parvin says that she insulted the officers and tried to escape. She then says "two men pinned her to the floor. I received blows on my legs and back, maybe five or ten blows. I remember I had my eyes closed and I screamed from the deepest parts of my body. My nose was still bleeding from the hitting I had received outside, and I was afraid."
Parvin says she was then made to sit on a chair in the middle of the room and handcuffed. She was offered no water and despite many requests to use the toilet "was not allowed to do so."
Hours after that, Parvin says she was taken to another room. She was then ordered to sit on another chair, she says "until she stopped crying."
After that, Parvin says she was taken "handcuffed and still bleeding" to be shown to the other detainees. The next morning, says Parvin the group were driven in a truck to the Evros river. The men were "wearing military-style clothing and balaclavas," writes Spiegel.
Parvin told them that one of these men "grabbed her by the neck and threatened to kill her if she ever came back." Then the group was taken in a dinghy to the Turkish side of the river.
Call for an immediate EU reaction
Der Spiegel asked the Greek government and the Greek police for a statement, but when they published, no statement had been forthcoming. Although they say they have "no definitive proof" for Parvin’s allegations, the photos and videos and location data suggest she is telling the truth.
Her accounts match those gathered by organizations like the Border Violence Monitoring Network. Parvin is now hoping that by citing Article 7 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which bans among other things torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, she can hold Greece accountable for the treatment she says she suffered.
Parvin’s lawyer, Hanaa Hakiki from ECCHR, says that she should have a good case. Hakiki, writes Spiegel, is hoping to set a precedent if they win the case at the UN Human Rights Committee which could then be invoked by other courts.
"European institutions have failed to challenge this systematic practice. The clear evidence in this case and others calls for an immediate reaction from the EU," said Hanaa Hakiki, in a press statement from ECCHR.
"I promised myself during one of the push-backs that when I get to Europe, I will go to court and get some justice," Parvin told ECCHR. "Because these push-backs and this violence must stop. We are human beings. I want to help get back some respect for human rights."
On a personal level, Parvin tells Spiegel, it is important for her that her voice is heard. "And I want to be there when this pushback center is closed forever."