Police officers patrol along a steel fence built at Evros River in the area of Feres, at the Greek-Turkish border, Greece, 22 August 2021 | Photo: EPA/DIMITRIS TOSIDIS
Police officers patrol along a steel fence built at Evros River in the area of Feres, at the Greek-Turkish border, Greece, 22 August 2021 | Photo: EPA/DIMITRIS TOSIDIS

Greek border guards reportedly rounded up a group of migrants, including a Frontex interpreter, and illegally pushed the group into Turkey after beating them and stripping them of their belongings.

Greek border guards allegedly mistook an interpreter from the EU border protection agency - Frontex - for an asylum seeker, while he was carrying out his work at the Greece-Turkey border. They subsequently beat him and illegally deported him to Turkey.

The Greek Citizens' Rights Agency announced an investigation into the case on Wednesday after receiving a related report from Frontex. The EU Commission announced that it had also requested an investigation.

Shining a light on illegal push-back practices

The interpreter is originally from Afghanistan but has lived in Italy for several years and is an EU resident. In a New York Times article published on Wednesday, the Frontex worker said that Greek border officials arrested him along with around 100 migrants in September. 

He and many of the others were then beaten, forced to undress and hand over their money, cell phones and identification papers. When he tried to explain that he worked for the EU agency Frontex, he was laughed at, beaten again and then taken to Turkey with the rest of the group. Following his ordeal, the interpreter received consular assistance from the Italian authorities after reaching Istanbul, and he was repatriated to Italy.

The Greek civil rights authority spoke of an "allegedly illegal return of a Frontex interpreter with other foreign nationals to Turkey in the Evros region". 

Hardline at the Greece-Turkey border

Since the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan at the end of August, Greece has implemented harsher measures at the Turkish border to try to stop refugees crossing into the EU.

The Evros River which runs between the two countries is now a military exclusion zone and remains very difficult to access. Reports of illegal pushbacks have been common here, however inaccessibility for researchers, NGO workers, human rights defenders and journalists has led to a troubling lack of transparency at the external EU border.

Human rights activists and the UN refugee agency UNHCR have long accused Greece of using illegal and violent methods against migrants. The recent account published by the New York Times is in line with evidence gathered by other migrants and reporters, who have given similar accounts of rights abuses. 

Greek authorities have also been accused of placing migrants in unseaworthy boats in the Aegean Sea leaving the migrants to drift back into Turkish waters, a practice denied by the government. Greece has also accused Turkey of pushing migrants into Greek waters.

Frontex and migrant abuses

The interpreter was part of an EU-funded team to improve communication between Greek and Frontex border guards and migrants when he was illegally detained.

Frontex itself has not been free of mounting criticism and has itself been involved in allegations of illegal pushback practices. A Syrian family who was deported to Turkey on a flight operated by Frontex, despite having lodged asylum claims in Greece, has filed a case against the EU border agency at the European court of justice.

In July 2021, the European Parliament's ad hoc Frontex Scrutiny Working Group (FSWG) published a report stating that "Frontex found evidence in support of allegations of fundamental rights violations in Member States with which it had a joint operation, but failed to address and follow-up on these violations promptly, vigilantly and effectively."

According to the FSWG, even though "national and international human rights organizations" had reported rights violations at the border, "Frontex generally ignored such reports."

EU Commission calls for an investigation

According to the New York Times, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said that when she heard about the case involving the Frontex interpreter, she spoke to the man and then contacted the Greek authorities.

Johansson stated she was "extremely concerned", because, according to reports, it was not an isolated case. The AFP news agency confirmed with the EU Commission in Brussels that it had called for "an independent, thorough and rapid investigation" of the incident. 

The Greek Ombudsman said in a press release on Wednesday, that it is also conducting a separate investigation into the claim by the Frontex interpreter.


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