Greece has rejected a request by the European Union to establish an independent process for border controls and monitoring of illegal migration.
The Greek snub is said to have infuriated Brussels, which has been fiercely critical of Athens’ alleged illegal practice of migrant pushback. The rejection could risk millions of dollars in financial aid that Greece needs to enhance its capabilities to curb illegal migration. This is especially true as Europe prepares for a wave of Afghan migrants moving west after the Taliban takeover.
Asked in parliament, Greek Migration Minister Nots Mittarakis offered a scathing response about whether he would allow the EU to set up an independent watchdog to oversee border controls and illegal migration.
He said that while the government in Athens was open to discussing the formation of independent monitoring committees on migration to the EU, Greece alone was not prepared, as he called it to “go it alone”.
Miterakis said creating a watchdog that would monitor how Greece is stopping illegal migrants and whether illegal pushback is taking place is not among the government’s priorities.
There is no such issue, he insisted. He stressed that it is Greece’s sovereign right to defend its border as it sees fit.
Greece has increased patrols along the Aegean Sea coast and erected a massive steel wall along its land borders with Turkey to prevent a fresh influx of migrants.
Greek leaders are also considering setting up a floating barrier along the Aegean waterway that divides Greece and Turkey. And with a new migrant exodus forced out of western Afghanistan, Athens says it is preparing a major media blitz to find that it is no longer allowing illegal entries free passage.
Reports from the United Nations, humanitarian aid organizations and migrants are documenting the growing number of migrants who are being turned away – often using nefarious practices such as “pushback”.
Senior UN officials in Greece contacted by the VOA said at least 450 cases of illegal pushback had been documented this year – they say the cases have been submitted to a local prosecutor to investigate.
Support groups kept the numbers very high. Norwegian-based Aegean Boat Report, which counts such activity, said on Saturday that it has documented 700 pushbacks since March 20, 2020. A total of 19,200 people claim to have been chased away by authorities, either pulling their rafts out of Greek waters or stripping multiple times. Motors from their boats carry migrants and refugees into the sea.
Forcing migrants to move is a serious violation of international law, a violation of asylum seekers’ right to safe passage and protection.
Croatia, France, Spain and Italy – all EU member states that face similar migration challenges – have also been accused of engaging in illegal, sometimes violent pushback.
But in Greece, UN officials and aid groups warn that the practice is not only routine, it is also being conducted in a more ruthless manner – picking up migrants and refugees with masked agents, who illegally enter Greece. crossed in, and then thrown them back to life. The raft was taken across the Aegean Sea and sent back to Turkey.
The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is sparking new waves of migration to the West, with aid agency officials telling the VOA they are concerned the illegal pushback could be excessive.
EU officials in Athens were not available for comment. But local media reported that immigration officials in Brussels were angry at Greece’s refusal to allow the monitors. Local media also reported that the European Union is ready to deposit $17.4 million in aid to help improve Greece’s coast guard with new equipment and ships.
Since coming to power in 2019, the centre-right government of Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has taken a tough stance on illegal migration – a policy that saw migrant flows drop by a dramatic 90% in that two-year period. Have seen
With the influx of Afghans steadily increasing, the government in Athens insists it will not give up – regardless of the cost.