Geneva, 23 August, 2023.- UN experts* today urged Greece to adopt safe and impartial border protection policies and practices and condemned the lack of accountability for violations involving Greek law enforcement personnel.
“We urge Greece to take steps to ensure a transparent and impartial investigation into allegations of violations of the principles of non-refoulement and non-discrimination and of the right to life involving Greek law enforcement personnel, including the Hellenic Coast Guard, and border violence,” the UN experts said. “We are particularly concerned by their failure to provide prompt and effective assistance to migrants in distress and ensure safe disembarkation and adequate reception of migrants,” they said.
Twelve asylum-seekers from Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia, men, women, and children, including a six-month-old infant, fleeing war and repression, who had already reached Greek territory, were rounded up by masked men, stripped of their belongings and forcibly taken to the port of Mytilene in Lesbos on 11 April. Some of them reported that they had arrived on the island in a smuggler’s boat the day before.
The experts requested detailed information from the Government of Greece on 7 August 2023. They expressed deep concern about the incidents in April and allegations of human rights violations and abuses. The experts urged Greece to provide information on the domestic regulation of the use of force and measures taken to prevent similar incidents from happening.
“The violence, which was captured on video – verified, and reported by the media – exposed the racist exclusion and cruelty of Europe’s border protection practices,” the experts said.
“The past 12 months have been among the deadliest for asylum seekers, refugees and migrants of African descent and others on their journeys, particularly along sea and land routes in the Middle East and North Africa region, and in perilous Sahara and Mediterranean crossings,” they said.
“While the investigation is ongoing, there is growing evidence of a deliberate and coordinated policy of forcible return and other dehumanising border control practices by Greece going far beyond deterrence and in contravention of its international obligations. The role of racism and systemic racism in the treatment of asylum-seekers must be confronted within any meaningful review of these practices,” the experts said.
States have obligations under international human rights and refugee law to address the dangers and risks faced by migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in host and transit countries. The lack of regular migration pathways, coupled with restrictive migration policies, xenophobic rhetoric and many other push factors for the migration and displacement of persons on the move, including climate change and conflict, which have deep historical roots within colonial practices, often operate to aggravate these dangers and risks rather than mitigate them.
The experts found the alleged unlawful, arbitrary, and collective expulsion of the asylum-seekers to be of particular concern, as it was in direct contravention of due process and the protections provided by the 1951 Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights. They call on Greece to comply with the Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights at International Borders and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.
These forced removals are also contrary to the recommendation of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, calling on States to “ensure that non-citizens are not subjected to collective expulsions”.
“It is therefore important to not only safeguard the lives of persons of African descent on the move, but to ensure that their human rights, security and dignity are also preserved with special protection measures for those – including women and children – who are at most risk,” the experts said.
The experts will continue to monitor the situation and are in contact with the authorities regarding these issues.