Rights group seeks inquiry on collective expulsions in Aegean

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday called on the Greek Parliament to launch an inquiry into claims of collective expulsions of undocumented immigrants by members of the Hellenic Coast Guard following an incident in the Aegean last week that resulted in 12 immigrants being lost at sea.

The bodies of two of the migrants have been recovered while the other 10, all women and children, remain missing.

“Despite government denials, we’ve heard many accounts of pushbacks that put migrants’ lives at risk,” said Eva Cosse, the international human rights organization’s Greece specialist.

HRW’s call followed a string of appeals by other similar organizations including Amnesty International and by the European Council’s Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muiznieks for an investigation into claims that Hellenic Coast Guard officers abused immigrants.

On Wednesday coast guard officers told Parliament they had “done all they could” to save the lives of migrants on the boat off Farmakonisi.

Merchant Marine Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis said coast guard officers have orders to “guard the country’s sea borders and save the lives of those at risk,” not to forcibly expel would-be migrants.

More than 45 people who occupied Varvitsiotis’s office in central Athens on Thursday, in protest at the Farmakonisi incident, were detained by police. One was charged with resisting arrest and swearing at policemen.