Question to the Commission on pushbacks from Italy to Greece

A week ago Lighthouse Reports published a report on the results of their research on pushbacks on tourist ferries from Italy to Greece. They found evidence that asylum seekers, including children, are held in unofficial prisons – sometimes handcuffed – during the crossing in the belly of passenger ships. SRF and ARD Monitor were also involved in the research and have reported on it in television reports. 

On January 25, together with five other Green MEPs, I submitted a written question to the European Commission. I would like to know to what extent these illegal pushbacks from Italy to Greece are compatible with EU asylum law, and what follow-up investigations are planned from the Commission to investigate this matter. Another question is about the bilateral readmission agreement between Italy and Greece from 1999 and whether this agreement is at all in line with the EU acquis. 

You can find my collected written questions to the Commission and the answers here.

My request

Lighthouse Reports, together with SRF, ARD Monitor, Al Jazeera, Il Domani and Solomon, published a report on January 18, 2023, documenting the practice of illegal pushbacks on passenger ships from Italy to Greece. Evidence shows that asylum seekers apprehended by Italian authorities in Adriatic ports are not able to claim asylum upon arrival, but are detained in port and then pushed back to Greece. Reports from individuals of Afghan, Syrian, or Iraqi origin indicate that they have been detained, handcuffed, and confined in confined spaces in segregated facilities on passenger ships during their deportation from Italy to Greece. 

  1. In the European Commission's view, to what extent is this practice compatible with the EU acquis on asylum?
  2. Is the bilateral readmission agreement between IT and GR compatible with the EU acquis?
  3. What follow-up action does the European Commission intend to take following the above report?

Migration Day 2022

On December 18, 1990, the UN Migrant Workers Convention adopted by the UN General Assembly. It is the primary international standard against which governments should measure their national legal protections. Unfortunately, Germany has not yet ratified the Convention.

BIPoC from Ukraine welcome?

On December 10, 2022, together with PxP Embassy e. V. a Conference on the situation of third-country nationals in Germany and the federal states. You can find the livestream here. Together with representatives of civil society, politics and affected BIPoC people from Ukraine, we discussed the current situation, possible solutions and future perspectives. 

The EU has taken in 4.7 million refugees 

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, more than one million people in Germany have now been able to reach safety. Through the first-time activation of the "Mass Inflow Directive" of the European Council, the EU has been able to create a common solution for people fleeing war, so that they have a safe residence perspective and care quickly and without bureaucracy. This Temporary Protection Directive has existed since 2001, but has never been activated before. The directive allows refugees unbureaucratic access to social benefits, health care, labor market access and free choice of residence. Thanks to its application, the Dublin Regulation does not apply, which means that refugees do not have to apply for asylum in the country where they first enter, as is usually the case, but can move freely within the EU. This is a great success for the EU and shows that when there is political will, uncomplicated solutions are quickly found. The EU has achieved an enormous feat of strength and over 4.7 million People received from Ukraine.

Third country nationals are excluded 

However, one group of people has been excluded: the so-called third-country nationals. For these people without Ukrainian passports but residing in Ukraine, other regulations have been created – many are to be deported. They are excluded from temporary protection for war displaced persons, and this despite the fact that they had to flee from the same war. According to the IOM, among the nearly five million refugees are approx. 500.000 Third-country nationals who have fled Ukraine. They have often had very different experiences than Ukrainian refugees and have already had traumatic racist and discriminatory experiences at the borders. Many of them were pulled out of trains as the only PoC and were denied border crossings. Denies. This is because the Mass Influx Directive primarily provides for the protection of Ukrainian nationals, but there is an explicit recommendation by the Council to extend the circle of beneficiaries of protection to third-country nationals and stateless persons as well. However, since the EU cannot grant residence status to refugees, the national authorities must transpose the directive into national law; in Germany, this is the Federal Ministry of the Interior. 

Implementation of the mass inflow directive in Germany

With the application of para. 24 Right of residence Germany has implemented the Mass Influx Directive almost 1:1, except for the recommendation to extend the group of beneficiaries of protection to third-country nationals and stateless persons. Third-country nationals can also apply for temporary protection, but unlike Ukrainians, they are examined to determine whether they can safely return to their country of origin, regardless of whether their center of life was in Ukraine or not. If it is decided that a return to the country of origin is possible, the affected persons receive a negative residence decision and are thus obliged to leave the country. They are threatened with deportation and illegalization, even though they fled the same war as everyone else. 

The Netherlands does it differently

Most EU countries have implemented the mass influx directive in a similar way to Germany. However, the fact that it can also be done differently can be seen in the example of the NetherlandsHere, even those who had only a temporary residence permit in Ukraine, such as student visas, fall under the protection of the mass influx directive. Here, double standards are applied and a racist division of two classes of refugees is created. There should be equal rights for all people fleeing from the same war in Ukraine. 

In the absence of a regulation from the federal government, Berlin creates an interim solution 

The Berlin state government, as well as Hamburg and Bremen, has attempted a Temporary solution for third-country nationals. By extending the right of residence from 90 days to an additional six months, third-country nationals should be able to meet the qualifications for other visas, e.g.: Student visas. This is already a step in the right direction, but the period is too short to be a real chance for many people to get another residence title. For a student visa, for example, a language level of C1 is necessary, as well as a blocking amount of about 10,000€, hard to manage in six months. Furthermore, our discussions have shown that there is an enormous difference between political will and reality at the authorities.

Authority madness

Those affected describe a back-and-forth from authority to authority, employees who are not up to date with the latest regulations, and deportation notices that are served even though a six-month extension has already been issued. In addition, original documents are often required, but these have been lost during the flight or cannot be obtained because the Ukrainian authorities do not work as usual; copies and scans are often not accepted. If §24 were applied to all refugees from Ukraine, an enormous amount of resources would be freed up on the part of German authorities and NGOs. These could support the refugees in their arrival and integration instead of spending their energy navigating the bureaucratic jungle. It would also mean a great reduction in psychological stress for people who have just fled a war, as well as give them a chance to arrive in Germany. Jian Omar, a member of the Berlin House of Representatives, made it clear to us at the panel, however, that it is already pushing hard for a follow-up solution in the state parliament right now. Misbah Khan and Hakan Demir, members of the Bundestag, have pledged to keep up the pressure at the federal level to find a solution to the situation. 

Double standard – Why?

According to UNHCR 4,776,606 people registered for temporary protection in EU countries. Of these, Germany has taken in over one million refugees. According to the BMI, approx. 29.000 Third-country nationals. This means that no 3% of the people from Ukraine in Germany are third-country nationals. So we are talking about a very small number of people for whom life is made very very difficult. Moreover, most of them have been students in Ukraine. Many of them in the medical field – a field that desperately needs skilled workers. So one wonders why there is a need to differentiate here. An overview of the program, the guests and the contents can be found at here. The conference was broadcast live and recorded

BIPoC from Ukraine – Welcome? – Conference: December 2022

Together with PxP Embassy e.V. I am organizing a conference on December 10, 2022 in Berlin to talk about the situation of the so-called third-country nationals from Ukraine in Germany. We want to discuss the current situation together with representatives of civil society, politics and affected BIPoC people from Ukraine. You can find the program here. The live stream is here.

We demand equal treatment for all people who have fled Ukraine.            

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, more than one million people have now been able to find safety in Germany. By activating the so-called "mass influx directive" of the European Council for the first time, the EU has been able to create a common solution for people fleeing the war so that they have a safe residence perspective and care quickly and without bureaucracy.


CHALLENGE

However, one group of people has been excluded: the so-called third-country nationals, mostly BIPoC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color). For these people without Ukrainian passports, but residing in Ukraine, a different regulation has been created; they are to be deported. They are excluded from temporary protection for war displaced persons, and this despite the fact that they had to flee from the same war. Some federal states, e.g. also Berlin, have tried with their own regulations to enable also these people a way into a safe perspective of staying in Germany. Many of them have studied in Ukraine, and the Berlin bridging regulation is intended to enable them, among other things, to fulfill the requirements for other visas in Germany. However, there are still some barriers and hurdles. For example, the regulation in Berlin will expire in February and it is currently not clear how third-country nationals from Ukraine will be able to continue their studies.

EVENT

Be there to discuss with affected people and about the situation of third-country nationals in Germany and the federal states. We want to talk about the current situation together with representatives of civil society, politics and affected BIPoC people from Ukraine.

WE STREAM THE WHOLE THING LIVE

Since there is unfortunately only limited capacity on site, we will stream the event live. So you can follow it live on different channels and also ask questions to the panelists. The link to the livestream is here.

BE A PEACE OF IT!

Solidarity greetings

Erik Marquardt & PxP Embassy e.V.

Civil society talks in WrocÅaw: Resilience and Resistance

Our Conference against criminalization of solidarity and for support of civil society

On October 22 and 23, our group, my office in Brussels and the Polish Greens organized a conference to bring together people from all over Europe who are affected by criminalization. Criminalization means helpers are put on trial for helping others on the run in a humanitarian way. This is meant to deter and ensure that the flight to Europe remains life-threatening and inhumane. Particularly affected, however, are refugees themselves, who are criminalized. Either directly for fleeing or because they are accused of belonging to trafficking networks simply because they steered a boat. 

The choice for our conference "Civil Society Talks: Resilience and Resistance" fell on Wrocław, because the Criminalization of Polish Civil Society Increased Particularly Strongly has since the Belarusian dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka systematically brought people to the Polish border. But also because the city has taken in a particularly large number of refugees from Ukraine, who now have a relevant part of the population represent

Double standards in Poland 

On the one hand, solidarity for people from Ukraine in Poland is very great. On the other hand, it is also bitter to see how the solidarity is limited only to the immediate neighbors and other people are still not recognized as refugees because they have a different skin color or religion. Especially in Poland it is absurd to see how great the solidarity with refugees from Ukraine is everywhere in the country and people who help at the Ukrainian border are celebrated as heroes; while those who do exactly the same at the border with Belarus are treated like dangerous criminals. 

It is necessary to help on the border with Belarus, especially in winter. So far died at least 17 people at the border between Poland and Belarus – most of them from the cold. All activists with whom we have spoken assume that the number of unreported cases is significantly higher. 

Great interest 

The interest in the event was great. During the day on Saturday, around 100 people came, including a great many interested people and activists from Wrocław itself. During the day, the event took place in the venerable Ossolinski National Library, where criminalized people from all over Europe shared their experiences and networked. 

Guests were the Polish NGOs Blue dot, which creates various places where Ukrainian refugees are helped. Nomadawho provide legal advice and supervise various integration projects and the Mothers at the Borders, offering support directly at the Polish external border and demonstrating against the unequal treatment of refugees. 

Criminalization 

Anita Wojcinowicz

The big panel of the conference took place on Saturday evening at the Wyspa Tamka Cultural Center and was moderated by me. I am especially happy that Hamid Khalizad shared his story with us. The Greek authorities accused him of being a trafficker simply because he himself had to flee to Greece. He has since, fortunately, been acquitted. The criminalization of human rights defenders who are themselves migrants is far too underreported because they are in a particularly vulnerable situation. They can face deportation, pushback, arbitrary detention and loss of status, as well as harsh financial, social and economic consequences. 

Because Hamid unfortunately could not be there in person, his letter was sent by Seán Binder read aloud. Seán Binder was imprisoned in Greece for several months and the trial against him is still ongoing, only because the Greek authorities did not want to continue to accept that he and his organization were Free Humanitarians Rescue people from distress at sea in the Aegean Sea. The trial against him and other sea rescuers has already been postponed several times for flimsy reasons, leaving them in a space of legal uncertainty from which they cannot easily escape. The lawyer Elli Kriona From Hias Greece reported on the lack of rule of law and legal advice to refugees – especially on the islands. 

The Polish perspective 

The Polish perspective on the subject have given us Mariusz Kurnyta and Marta Gorczynska pointed out. Mariusz lives near the border and was a soldier. When he heard that people were freezing to death not far from his house, he decided to do the obvious and humane thing and help them. He is shocked to report how the Polish authorities treat people at the border and, unfortunately, how many of his neighbors and friends do not agree at all with him helping fugitives at the Belarusian border. Marta is a human rights lawyer and part of the Grupa Granica alliance, which spontaneously formed on the Belarusian border over a year ago. She spoke primarily about the humanitarian crisis on the Belarusian border, to which the alliance also has a Summary has written. In addition, Marta also worked on this Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights report entitled. "The lawless Zone: Polish-Belarusian Border Monitoring." 

In addition to the Greek and Polish perspective, Marta Llonch, a lawyer actively working at the border with Melilla, was also a guest and reported on the human rights situation on the ground, where in June this year at least 37 people died. After the event, the participants talked in an informal atmosphere and took another look around Wrocław. 

Shrinking Spaces 

Anita Wojcinowicz

The next morning there was another event on "Shrinking Spaces", i.e. the restriction of space for civil society. Here the focus was on how attempts are being made to concretely restrict space for NGOs so that they can no longer do their work and help people fleeing. At the conference, I met many people who were put on trial for doing the right thing. The thing we would all say should be done. Not let people drown, freeze to death or die of thirst. It's a disgrace to us as a European Union that people are being put on trial for that. And it is an equally great shame that people are thrown into prison in EU countries because they themselves had to flee. Our goal remains to create a friendly environment for solidarity and to fight the criminalization of civil courage. In addition, independent human rights monitoring at our external borders must be strengthened. Finally, we need to better fund humanitarian aid and promote a balanced EU migration policy instead of criminalizing it. In short, we need to make policies that are compatible with the values we promote. 

Refugees are deprived of their rights at Latvia's external EU border

On August 10, 2021, Latvia declared a state of emergency in four border regions with Belarus due to increasing numbers of refugees. As a result of this decree, the military will be sent to the border, the right of asylum in these areas will be suspended, and consequently most of the refugees will be forcibly pushed back to Belarus. In addition Press and NGOs access to those regions is prohibited, which prevents independent monitoring of the situation and humanitarian assistance, as well as access to due process. Amnesty International has been monitoring the situation at the border for over a year now, interviewing border officials and refugees, and has published the results in its report here published. 

In the summer of 2021, the Latvian government declared the border regions an exceptional area. The Latvian government legitimized this action with the fact that refugees from Belarus against Latvia instrumentalized would be. The declaration of a State of emergency allows a state to restrict certain human rights in extreme circumstances when there is a threat to the life of the nation. Although the numbers of people attempting to cross the border into Latvia have decreased massively, to vanishingly small, the Latvian government has continued to extend its measures. They are currently still in effect, although in August just 35 official Asylum applications in Latvia have been placed. That this number is not a âthreat to the life of the nationâ is obvious.

Protection seekers stuck 

The statements of the interviewees show that Latvia massively violates human rights at its borders and that people are sometimes stuck in the border area for months. There, the Belarusian and Latvian border guards alternately force them back and forth across the border in both directions. One refugee reports that he has been stuck in the border region for over 3 months and has been pushed across the border more than 150 times in total, with a maximum of up to eight pushbacks in a single day. A typical horror trip in the limbo of the border region looks like this: The asylum seekers try to cross the green border through the forest to Latvian territory to apply for asylum. On Latvian territory they are picked up by border guards and taken to unregistered tent camps somewhere in the forest, far away from civil society, press and NGOs. Here, border guards in official uniforms are replaced by so-called commandos. Men, with rapid-fire weapons, hooded faces, and dressed entirely in black, without any identifying marks as belonging to any official authority. These commandos harass, beat and abuse the detainees. They use batons and stun guns, – sometimes even on their genitals. Their cell phones and valuables are taken from them. The shelter seekers have to sleep overnight in a tent in the middle of the forest, sometimes outdoors, at up to -20 degrees. The commandos also take away their lighters, the only way to make a fire to warm themselves against the cold temperatures and to protect themselves against wolves and bears. Often in the early morning hours, the refugees are bussed back to the border with Belarus and have to walk the rest of the way back through the forest. 

In Belarus

In Belarusian territory, the people are forced by the border guards at gunpoint to make their way back through the forest towards Latvia. Thus, the fugitives are pushed back and forth between the two countries for weeks and months. In the tent camps, somewhere in the forest, there are no sanitary facilities. The forest in the border areas is full of cameras, which almost always allows border guards to catch the fugitives before they make it further into the country. In this limbo, between the borders, people are defencelessly exposed to violence and cold, without any access to an asylum procedure, which they would be entitled to under EU law and the Geneva Refugee Convention.

Compulsion to return 

In order to escape this hell, the people on the run are coerced into signing so-called return contracts, in order to be able to be deported to their countries of origin. In Latvia, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) these repatriations. In at least two documented cases, refugees have made IOM officials aware that they are not doing so voluntarily and do not want to return to their home countries, but they have been ignored. Amnesty International is searching for over 30 people who are missing. 

Latvia violates EU law 

The Latvian government claimed against the EU Committee The European Union's Federal Minister for Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs has demanded that all people who are apprehended by border guards in the border areas be taken to refugee shelters where they can apply for asylum. However, the Amnesty report shows that this is rarely the case. The Situations on the Polish-Belarusian border and on the Lithuanian-Belarusian border are similar. In June 2022 decided the Court of Justice of the European Union that the Lithuanian Asylum and Migration Law, which restricts the ability of people to apply for asylum during the state of emergency and provides for the automatic detention of asylum seekers, is not compatible with EU law. However, nothing has changed in practice. 

Request: Cases of "drift-backs" in the Aegean Sea

I have put a question to the Commission about the documented „drift-backs“ in the Aegean Sea. To my question whether the Commission finally admits these human rights violations at the Greek border I receive once again no answer. The Commission remains vague in its statements and only points out that it has asked the Greek authorities to investigate all allegations. However, it is self-explanatory that this does not yield much when an authority that commits human rights violations itself is supposed to investigate its own misconduct. Now that this is the case, the Commission, as guardian of the treaties, should initiate infringement proceedings against Greece to clarify the widely documented violations of the rule of law and human rights. After all, our borders are only protected if our fundamental rights are also protected at them.

You can find the request with answers in several languages here.

My request

The research agency "Forensic Architecture" recently reported that the Greek Coast Guard, partly with the assistance of Frontex, has abandoned refugees on life rafts in 1,018 cases so that they would drift back from Greek waters to the Turkish coast, also known as "drift-back." Although there is growing evidence of this practice, the Commission's response to it so far has been very muted and ambiguous, giving the impression that it wants to cover up for the Greek state agencies instead of acting as a guardian of the treaties.

  • Does the Commission intend to take joint action with Frontex with regard to the above cases, or does it expect the Greek Transparency Authority to make these incidents the subject of an independent investigation?
  • In dealing with the systematic human rights violations alleged against the Greek Government, does the Commission take account of the conflict of interest in view of the party affiliation of Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, who is responsible in the College of Commissioners for promoting our European way of life?
  • Is the Commission finally acknowledging the frequent and serious human rights violations at Greece's borders, following the publication of a long list of evidence by a wide range of established actors?

The reply of Ylva Johansson on behalf of the European Commission on 13.10.2022

  1. The responsibility for investigating alleged refoulements lies with the national authorities. In this context, the Greek authorities informed the Commission about measures taken to ensure the respect of fundamental rights. These include internal control procedures, investigations by independent authorities and the possibility for prosecutors to investigate allegations*. The Commission will continue to work with the Greek authorities to monitor progress made.
  2. Vice President Schinas has no conflict of interest. According to the Code of Conduct for Commission members, a conflict of interest exists when a personal interest may affect the independent performance of a Commission member's duties. Personal interests include, but are not limited to, potential
    Benefits or advantages for the members themselves, their (spouses) partners or immediate family members. A conflict of interest does not exist if a commission member is affected merely as part of the general public or a broad section of the population. Consequently, affiliation with a political party as well as political convictions do not create a conflict of interest.
  3. Member States have an obligation under EU law to prevent and deter unauthorized crossing of the EU's external borders in accordance with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, including the right to asylum and the principle of non-refoulement. Respect for fundamental rights is a non-negotiable part of the implementation of integrated European border management, and the Commission has repeatedly called on the relevant national authorities to thoroughly investigate allegations and bring those responsible to justice where appropriate.

*According to the new proposals, the Greek authorities will continue to work on a three-tier structure, relying on: a) internal control procedures to investigate crimes related to Greek Police or Greek Coast Guard operations and to
to be prosecuted, b) investigations by independent authorities such as the Greek Ombudsman and the National Transparency Authority, and c) the ability of prosecutors to investigate allegations following an appropriate complaint or press and NGO reports. Most recently, the
Greek authorities to adopt legislation on June 30, 2022, following discussions between Commissioner Johansson and relevant ministers in Greece, including the establishment of a Fundamental Rights Commissioner and a specific Fundamental Rights Monitoring Committee within the Ministry of Migration and Asylum. The Fundamental Rights Officer and the Committee will deal with complaints related to both border operations and asylum procedures.

Green delegation trip to the Greek border

From September 19 to 21, I was part of a delegation from my group in the European Parliament, together with MEPs Tineke Strik from the Netherlands, Saskia Bricmont from Belgium and Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield traveled from France to Greece. The aim of the trip is to get a picture of the current situation of refugees in Greece – but also the situation of the rule of law and freedom of the press in general. The Greek government has had leading opposition politicians and journalists monitored by spyware and, according to Reporters Without Borders, the country is lagging behind in terms of press freedom, currently ranked 108 out of 180 countries – Only Russia and Belarus perform worse in Europe. 

RIC Fylakio – Conditions in the camps.

The focus of our trip was a visit to the Evros, the border river to Turkey. Here again and again particularly serious human rights violations – violent and systematic pushbacks – documented. In addition, we have also addressed issues related to biometric mass surveillance of protection seekers in so-called RIC (Reception and Identification Center). We visited the RIC in Fylakio, where people are actually allowed to be locked up for a maximum of 25 days. In practice, even children are locked up there for months and have no access to education or medical care. The camp itself is small, but full of locked doors and barbed wire, with no shade or color. People live in container houses with blocks for families, men and unaccompanied minors. The NGOs on the ground are so intimidated by the government that they are afraid to talk to us MPs for fear of losing access to the camp or funds if they do.

Dead on the Evros 

We were denied access to the border region, even though we are MEPs and I am responsible for external borders in Parliament. Unfortunately, the Greek authorities are concretely preventing me from doing my work as an MEP. We were standing in front of two containers, in which lay the bodies of 20 people found on the Evros River. This year alone, the bodies of 51 people have been found in the Greek border region. We talked to Dr. Pavlidis; he takes care of these cases on a voluntary basis, trying to create certainty for the relatives whether their missing sons, daughters or parents are still alive. Often the bodies are found only after months – also because NGOs are denied access to the border region.

Meeting with Frontex

All activities of the agency are based on the self-declared needs of the national authorities and are under that supervision. The Greek authorities try to keep Frontex away from their illegal activities and pushbacks, because Frontex should actually report them – which they have demonstrably not done in many cases. The border guards and supervisors we spoke with claim to report all activities, but have never witnessed any pushback. When we asked what they actually do all day, we did not receive a comprehensible answer.

Meeting with Notis Mitarachi 

On Tuesday we had a meeting with the Greek Minister of Migration Notis Mitarachi, who has repeatedly accused us MPs and also renowned international media of spreading fake news and Turkish propaganda when we talked about the obvious pushbacks, violence and disappearances at sea. The Greek government is not only building fences on the border, but also a wall of lies. In his speech, Mitarachi spoke of much better reception conditions and a minimal backlog of asylum procedures in the country, but did not address the issues raised by credible actors allegations of pushbacks raised and other human rights violations. I have confronted Mr. Mitarachi with several recent cases, including the Cases of people stranded on an island on the river Evros. But Mr. Mitarachi simply claimed that all these cases were lies and fabrications. 

Freedom of the press in Greece 

We met journalists who were involved in the coverage of the Predator case involved where Greece illegally wiretapped journalists and opposition politicians. Their accounts painted a picture of intimidation, national media that have become the government's mouthpiece, and a severe lack of resources for investigative journalism.

Lesbos 

After the end of the green mission, I traveled to Lesvos to see the situation in the Mavrouvoni camp, which was built after the fire in Moria and was intended as a short-term emergency solution. The situation in the camp is still not good, but it is also much better than a year ago due to the many NGOs and international pressure. How the situation was a year ago, I have written down here. Currently, a new camp is being built, which is even more remote than Mavrouvoni and should be ready next spring. It is feared that people will be locked up there and NGOs will not have access.

General situation in Greece 

On Tuesday, we met with experts in Athens who deal with the dangerous effects of biometric mass surveillance, corruption in the allocation of public funds, attacks on press freedom and the wiretapping scandal. The many discussions left the picture of a state where basic democratic standards and human rights are no longer respected. The EU, especially the Commission, must act quickly and build pressure to counter further deterioration. Civil society, independent journalists and refugees need active support to resist the attacks by the state and the government. 

Greek government lies

My visit to the Evros and Athens has shown me once again that the Greek government systematically lies in order to evade its responsibility and does not shy away from mistreating people on the run, intimidating NGOs and attacking and spying on journalists. But there is also an intact civil society that needs our support now to continue fighting for the rights of those seeking protection and for the preservation of democracy and the rule of law. 

Question: Rejections despite interim measures of the ECtHR

I have submitted a question to the Commission on pushbacks at the border between Greece and Turkey. The Commission expresses shock and concern about the reports and replies that it will review the current control mechanisms to safeguard fundamental rights.

You can find the request with answers in several languages here.

My request

As from the Greek Refugee Council reported, 94 Syrians:including minors with health conditions and young mothers with their infants, were recently stranded on an islet off the coast of the Greek regional district of Evros and were forced to stay there for several days without water and food. Although the European Court of Human Rights took interim measures on May 24, 2022, to ensure that these people receive immediate humanitarian and medical assistance and that the reception and identification procedures provided for by law are applied to them, they were returned to Turkey against their will last weekend, according to reports from their family members in Turkey.

  • In the Commission's view, are the Greek actions described above compatible with EU law, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights?
  • What steps will the Commission take to investigate the possible expulsion of 94 Syrians?
  • Does it have information about other illegal refoulements by Greece or about the number of alleged illegal practices at the Greek border?

Answer given by Ylva Johansson on behalf of the European Commission on 08/08/2022

The Commission is deeply concerned by all reports and allegations of refoulement and ill-treatment. Any form of violence or refoulement is unlawful and must be investigated by the national authorities responsible for establishing the facts and taking follow-up action. The Commission is aware of the increasing migration flows at the land border with Turkey in recent months and the threat of smugglers who abandon migrants on small islands in the Evros River.

In accordance with the Regulation with common provisions Member States must establish effective mechanisms to comply with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (basic requirements). The Commission is currently assessing the mechanisms put in place in the context of the Greek programs under the Home Affairs Funds, including the independent mechanism for monitoring and preventing refoulement. If the Commission considers that an essential condition is not met, the expenditure incurred under the measures concerned may be included in the payment claims, but reimbursement will only be made once the Commission has informed the Member State concerned that the essential condition has been met.

The Commission examines all relevant information at its disposal and cooperates with the Greek authorities responsible for the control mechanisms and the concrete investigation of allegations. The Commission also works within the framework of the Task Force âMigration Managementâ is working with Greece and providing feedback in this area in order to increase the effectiveness of the monitoring and follow-up modalities put in place by the Greek authorities to fully implement the obligations under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and EU law, including the principle of non-refoulement.

Question: EU funding for closed migration centers

The EU funds several closed migration centers with detention-like conditions in Greece. Despite evidence from a Greek court and several non-governmental organizations, the Commission denies that detention-like conditions exist and further claims that the rights of those seeking protection are not being violated.

You can find the request with answers in several languages here.

My request

The EU funds several closed migration centers in Greece. These include the closed controlled-access center on Samos, which opened in September 2021 and received funding of EUR 43 million under the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF). According to rulings by a Greek court and evidence from various non-governmental organizations, many asylum seekers face de facto detention and extensive surveillance at this center.

  • Does the Commission consider the funding of this closed center to be compatible with the specific provisions governing the detention of asylum seekers in international and European asylum law (e.g. the Reception Conditions Directive and the Dublin III Regulation)?
  • Could the Commission provide a detailed list of all AMIF expenditures for the Samos camp since September 2021, broken down by category of expenditure (in particular monitoring, including procedures and guards)?
  • Is there a concrete overview of funding under AMIF for comparable centers in the Georgian islands, including their capacity and total number of staff per camp, and how does the Commission monitor this expenditure?

Answer given by Ylva Johansson on behalf of the European Commission on 08/09/2022

The Commission has allocated â¬276 million from the Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) for the construction of five multi-purpose reception and identification centers on the islands of Samos, Kos, Leros, Chios and Lesvos. These centers include different areas, including reception and identification structures for new arrivals, accommodation facilities, safe areas for unaccompanied children and adolescents, recreational areas and deportation zones. As demonstrated by the Return Directive only the deportation zones are closed areas. The full respect of the EU right of asylum and return is a condition for the centers to be supported with EU funds.

The tender documents published by the Greek authorities for the construction of the centers are available online. They refer to the total cost of the construction works and not to the cost per center. The contracts containing information on the running costs of the new center on Samos come from the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum and therefore the Commission does not have the requested information. The Honourable Members are invited to contact the competent authorities for further information. Services of the Ministry to turn.

The Commission has deployed staff to the islands and is closely monitoring the work of the new centers to ensure compliance with applicable EU law. This is done through mandatory reporting by the beneficiaries of EU funds and on-site visits by Commission staff. For the construction of the new multipurpose reception and identification centers, an additional monitoring framework has been put in place, including regular financial controls by an external audit firm during the project.

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