Greek “pushbacks” brought to EU court after child refugees were “put back in a boat and released at sea”

Two child asylum seekers were removed by officials from a refugee camp in Greece, taken to sea on a coast guard ship and left alone to float on a motorless rubber dinghy until they found land, a legal complaint against Athens claims.

The Turkish authorities found two Afghan youths, aged 15 and 16, paddling with their hands near Kusadasi on the Turkish coast on September 9 after alleged “pushback” – the practice of forcibly turning asylum seekers away from the border .

Her case is the latest report from asylum seekers who have come ashore in search of a sanctuary, allegedly to be put back in boats and left in the sea.

Since then, a complaint, referred to as an R, has been filed with the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of the younger of the couple to protect their identity, alleging that the Greek state has violated their human rights.

Greece has consistently denied involvement in setbacks, and Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi told Greek media that previous allegations were “part of a broader fake news strategy promoted by Turkey through certain non-governmental organizations and smuggling networks”.

However, activists, NGOs and legal professionals have pointed to extensive evidence, including photo and video footage of refugees being returned to the sea in highly visible rescue gear.

Lawyers say the couple arrived with 16 other Afghan asylum seekers on the Greek island of Samos on September 18 last year after traveling to the coast from Turkey.

The group had arrived at a hard-to-reach landing point and one asylum seeker, a pregnant woman, had been injured so that she could no longer travel to the center of the island, causing the two boys to break away from these they were with one Arrived 8 km away in Vathi refugee camp and found the way there. Images seen by The independent one seem to show one of the boys standing over the city’s refugee processing center as they approached from the surrounding countryside

There they were offered food and a place to sleep by the residents of the camp – but they were allegedly arrested the following day after introducing themselves to officers, including a police officer, trying to apply for asylum.

Lawyers say the two boys were told they would be quarantined but instead put in a car, taken to port and placed on a Greek coast guard ship where they were handcuffed.

The children were then threatened and their phones and personal effects confiscated before being taken to sea and placed on a life raft without propelling themselves, the case said.

Niamh Keady-Tabbal, a Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) researcher who filed the complaint on behalf of the teen, said The independent one. “This is a systematic practice at this point. It started in March but has continued since then and is very, very well documented. “

She added: “Nobody knew where the applicant and the other unaccompanied minor were because various other things were said to people who witnessed their arrival, such as that they were in quarantine.”

Lawyers argue that the applicant had compromised the right to life as well as the right of refugees not to be returned to places where they might be at risk. They also claim that their treatment, abandoned at sea, amounts to torture.

“The applicant suffered severe mental and physical suffering as a result of these deliberate acts,” added Ms. Keady-Tabbal. “These setbacks are used to send the message to future potential asylum seekers that they should not try to exercise their right to asylum in Greece.”

The question is when will enough be enough? How far are you ready to go? Because I’m waiting to hear that 20 people have drowned from a life raft in the Aegean Sea. This is the worst case.

Tommy Olsen, Founder, Aegean Boat Report

The other 16 people who landed with them on the island were also brought back from land to the sea, according to the NGO Aegean Boat Report, which monitors and supports asylum seekers arriving in the region.

Tommy Olsen, who heads the group from Norway after volunteering on the Greek coast for several years, was contacted by the group when they arrived trying to get help. Messages between him and the asylum seekers seen by The independent one Show them how to recognize a lifeboat from the shore before they lose touch. They were found at sea by the Turkish coast guard the following day.

Mr Olsen said he believes the Coast Guard’s strategies have deteriorated over time – with the government’s approach deteriorating over the past year.

“In the beginning they just took the rubber boats at sea and stopped them,” he said. “But when the people came ashore, they didn’t put them in something and dragged them back.”

“Now they are putting them in life rafts and taking them into the middle of the sea at night. They use rescue equipment to deport people … we usually pick people up on life rafts, you do. They don’t put people on and off liferafts. It’s not normal behavior. “

He added that he believed the country “crosses borders” when it comes to deporting migrants as the EU has no impact.

“The question is when will enough be enough? How far are you ready to go? “, He said. “I’m waiting to hear that 20 people have drowned from a life raft in the Aegean Sea. This is the worst case. “

Last month, officials in Brussels urged Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson to look into the matter after 13 asylum seekers – including three women and five children – were reportedly removed from a camp in Lesbos and returned to the sea by armed officials .

The 8 MPs who were supposed to sign the letter informed the Commissioner. “Although both the European Commission and the respective member states have already been confronted with the allegations, we do not see any improvement. On the contrary: The allegations and reports of illegal setbacks continue to grow. “

Reports across Europe, including in German Spiegel, have also alleged that Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, may have been involved in setbacks. The EU anti-fraud watchdog OLAF launched an investigation into the agency in mid-January.

The Greek government has been asked to comment.

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