44 rights groups, advocates call for stop to pushbacks in joint letter to EU

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Refugees and migrants aboard an inflatable boat arrive in the Greek island of Lesbos on March 2, 2020. - Around 500 migrants landed on Sunday morning in around 10 vessels, according to an AFP tally, their crossing made easier by the good weather conditions. Another four vessels carrying 120 people landed on the neighbouring island of Chios, and two vessels carrying 80 migrants landed on Samos, further to the south, ANA reported. According to the Greek coastguard, around 180 migrants arrived Saturday on Lesbos and Samos, making the crossing from Turkey despite strong winds. (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS / AFP)

Forty-four human rights organizations and advocates have signed a joint letter addressing European Union officials, asking them to extend their support to stop pushbacks on the Turkish-Greek border.

The letter, addressing EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and Ylva Johansson, the EU commissioner for home affairs, said although the Greek migration minister promised at an EU meeting in October 2021 that his country would investigate claims about refugees being illegally pushed back by Greek officials, pushbacks by Greece continue.

The signatories of the letter said it was mostly the citizens of countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan who have been subjected to pushbacks in addition to an increasing number of Turkish citizens, primarily members of the Gülen movement and Kurdish activists who had to flee Turkey to avoid a government crackdown in the aftermath of a failed coup in 2016.

The Turkish government accuses the faith-based Gülen movement of masterminding the coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and labels it a “terrorist organization,” although the movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

“The Turkish nationals who are trying to flee Turkey are doing so in fear of persecution. Turkish asylum seekers who are pushed back by Greece, face immediate arrest, lengthy prison sentences, ill-treatment and torture,” the letter said.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced last week that a total of 332,884 people have been detained, of whom 101,000 were arrested and jailed, due to alleged links to the Gülen movement since the failed coup.

Following the abortive putsch, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. More than 130,000 public servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors, as well as 29,444 members of the armed forces were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny.

In addition to the thousands who were jailed, scores of other Gülen movement followers had to flee Turkey to avoid the government crackdown. Most of them had to leave the country illegally because their passports had been revoked.

In the letter Greece is accused of constantly violating the prohibition of refoulement under international human rights law as well as its many other international human rights obligations by pushing Turkish nationals back to Turkey.

The signatories of the letter demanded that the Greek government not further delay the setting up/designation of the body that will be tasked with the investigation of pushback allegations and which will include representatives from independent organizations; that all pushback incidents are thoroughly investigated; that those responsible are brought to justice; that access to asylum is ensured at the borders; and that all procedural or geographical restrictions, either legal or practical, with regard to claiming asylum are lifted.

Among the signatories of the letter were members of the European Parliament Sira Rego, Dietmar Köster, Bettina Vollath, Thomas Vaitz and Tineke Strik, Human Rights Defenders e.v. Berlin, the Brussels-based Solidarity with OTHERS, London Advocacy, Migrant Women Association Malta and Ivorian Community of Greece.

Aid groups and media frequently accuse Athens of organizing “illegal pushbacks” of migrants, allegations that Greece denies.

In May Greece said it prevented around 600 migrants from crossing into its waters from Turkey.

A Greek migration ministry source said nearly 30 percent more asylum seekers had tried to come to Greece in the first four months of 2022 than in the same period last year.

Source: Turkish Minute

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