Greece’s practice of pushing back refugees to Turkey amounts to a clear violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention, the European Convention on Human Rights, and European Union law, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said on Tuesday.
The remark came from UNHCR spokesperson Boris Cheshirkov at a briefing in Geneva as he responded to a question by Anadolu Agency on Turkey’s appeal to stop Greece from forcing back asylum seekers from its borders.
“The situation with pushbacks at both land and sea borders of Greece is one that we have been following closely over the last year,” he said, adding that the UN agency has repeatedly expressed concern over the issue.
Cheshirkov said the refugee agency had also received reports that around 13 Afghan nationals, including children, were recently sent back after reaching the northern shores of Lesbos.
“Clearly, the 1951 Refugee Convention, the European Convention on Human Rights, and EU law requires that states do protect the right of people to seek asylum, and to be protected from pushbacks and being sent back without going through the regular asylum process,” he said.
In a statement issued on Sunday, Turkey urged Athens and “all elements involved in pushbacks” to end their violations of international law, human rights agreements, and a 2016 migration deal between the EU and Turkey.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry’s statement cited two incidents on Feb. 23 and Feb. 24 in which Greek forces assaulted groups of asylum seekers, took their valuables, and left them stranded on an island in the middle of the Maritsa River.
Turkish authorities rescued 51 asylum seekers and migrants, including women and children, said the statement, adding that interviews with them had revealed that some were foreign nationals who came to Greece via Serbia and Bulgaria and were pushed back to Turkey.
The statement also cited another incident on Feb. 18 in which Greek forces removed 13 Afghan asylum seekers from a refugee camp on Lesbos “with the excuse of COVID-19 testing and pushed them back to Turkey after beating them up and taking their valuables and money.”
Over 80,000 asylum seekers have been pushed back to Turkey in the last four years, the ministry said, accusing Greece of pursuing a “systematic policy” for years on pushbacks with the involvement of the EU border agency FRONTEX.
It also urged the EU to monitor the implementation of EU law and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in member states “on the basis of human dignity.”
Turkey has been a key transit point for asylum seekers who want to cross to Europe to start new lives, especially those fleeing war and persecution.
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