Question: Human rights violations by Greek authorities

In order to be able to exercise my parliamentary control function as a Member of the European Parliament, I have the opportunity to put questions to the European Commission. The Commission must answer these questions.
Together with other Members, I put the following questions to the Commission:

Subject: Systematic and coordinated push-backs by the Greek authorities

On August 17, 2020, the New York Times published an article titled "Taking Hard Line, Greece Turns Back Migrants by Abandoning Them at Sea." It documents how migrants who landed on Greek soil were repeatedly forced by Greek officials onto unsafe life rafts and abandoned at the sea border between Turkey and Greece. There they were left to drift until rescued by the Turkish coast guard. Others were towed back to the Turkish maritime border and left there after officials disabled their engines, abandoned on an uninhabited island or expelled across the Evros River without the possibility of appeal.

Is the Commission aware of these incidents and can it confirm that they are taking place?

Given the seriousness of the newspaper, we believe that the Greek authorities are carrying out unprecedented, extremely aggressive and systematic push-backs, in breach of Union law, in particular Article78(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Articles 3 and 4 of the EU Schengen Borders Code, Article9 of the Asylum Procedures Directive, Article5 of the Return Directive, Articles18, 19(2) and 24 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees. Asylum and migration are shared responsibilities of the Union. In view of this, does the Commission intend to initiate infringement proceedings against the Greek Government?

Answer given by Commissioner Ylva Johansson on behalf of the European Commission on 06/11/2020:

The Commission is following the situation closely and has taken note of reports such as those quoted by the Honourable Members.

It has expressed concerns to the Greek authorities about these reports and stressed that, for border surveillance tasks under Regulation (EU)2016/399 on the Schengen Borders Code, Member States should[1] are responsible. In doing so, obligations related to fundamental rights, ensuring access to international protection and the principle of non-refoulement under Union and international law must be fully respected.

Without prejudice to the Commission's powers as guardian of the Treaties, the national authorities are primarily responsible for the correct transposition and application of EU law. The Commission has therefore urged the Greek authorities to investigate any possible wrongdoing.

With the new migration and asylum package[2] - in particular the proposal for a Regulation introducing screening of third-country nationals at the external borders[3] - the Commission has suggested that Member States, with the assistance of the Fundamental Rights Agency, establish an independent monitoring mechanism. This would ensure compliance with EU and international law, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights, during the screening process. At the same time, it would ensure that any violations of fundamental rights, including those related to access to the asylum procedure and non-compliance with the principle of non-refoulement, are effectively and promptly investigated.

[1] Regulation (EU2016/399 establishing a Community Code on the rules governing the movement of persons across borders (Schengen Borders Code) OJ L77, 23.3.2016.

[2] COM(2020)609final of 23 September 2020.

[3] COM(2020)612final of 23 September 2020.