An investigation by Greece’s national transparency watchdog has found no basis for reports that Greek authorities have pushed back asylum seekers trying to enter the country from Turkey.
Greece's National Transparency Authority (NTA) has announced that an in-depth investigation into claims that Greek coast guard authorities were involved in illegal pushbacks of asylum seekers had found no evidence to support the allegations.
A large number of European media outlets, including Spiegel, Lighthouse Reports, and the French daily Libération, last year said that special units of the Greek coast guard were involved in turning migrants around at sea. The Greek government has consistently denied the practice, known as pushbacks.
In a statement on Tuesday the NTA said the allegations of what it called "informal forced returns" of asylum seekers by masked men "were not confirmed."
"Upon completion of the examination process and the laboratory examination of the relevant material, no supporting evidence emerged,'' the statement said.
The NTA investigation, which began last November, included visits to the eastern Aegean Sea islands where migrant boats from Turkey arrive, and to the northeastern land border.
The authority said it conducted interviews with Greek security services, local residents and asylum-seekers. It said it also examined video and photos connected with the allegations, with the assistance of the Greek police.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, recently stated that the agency was alarmed about "recurrent and consistent reports" of pushbacks.
He said the UNHCR had recorded nearly 540 reported incidents of informal returns by Greece since the start of 2020 and he feared that such practices were becoming "normalized".
Last year's joint investigation by Lighthouse Reports (LR) and other media outlets collected and analyzed 635 videos of alleged pushbacks in the Aegean Sea.
According to the group, current and former senior officers in the Greek coast guard reviewed the material and identified masked men who appeared in the videos as members of elite Greek coast guard units.
In February this year, LR also published claims that a new tactic had been deployed by the Greek coastguard of throwing small groups of asylum seekers overboard and making them swim to turkey. The claims centered around the deaths of Sidy Keita from Ivory Coast and Didier Martial Kouamou Nana from Cameroon, who were captured by Greek authorities, beaten and thrown into the sea without life jackets, according to LR.
In the meantime a confidential report about a separate investigation by the European Anti-Fraud Office OLAF has found that Fabrice Leggeri, the chief of the EU border agency Frontex, tried to cover up information that Greek officials carried out pushbacks in the Aegean Sea.
This month Front-LEX, a non-government organization which says its aim is to restore law at Europe's borders, filed a lawsuit against Frontex on behalf of a Syrian asylum seeker, Alaa H.
In the first legal action of its kind, Alaa H. claims that Greek authorities transferred him to a raft, left him at sea for 17 hours and expelled him to Turkey.