Human Rights Watch on Thursday accused authorities in Greece of allegedly using migrants to help carry out summary, illegal deportations of asylum seekers at the country’s border before they are able to register their claims.
The New York-based rights group based the allegation on interviews with Afghan migrants who said they had been subjected to illegal pushbacks over the River Evros which forms part of the border between Greece and Turkey.
“Sixteen of those interviewed said the boats taking them back to Turkey were piloted by men who spoke Arabic or the South Asian languages common among migrants,” a 23-page report from HRW said.
“They said most of these men wore black or commando-like uniforms and used balaclavas to cover their faces.”
Greece’s government flatly denied the claims, maintaining they had been based on the “blanket acceptance” of allegations made in telephone interviews without any further investigation.
“The descriptions of actions carried out by foreign nationals at the border, to the extent that they may be accurate, would reveal rivalry and hostility between smuggling gangs,” a joint statement issued by the ministries of public order and migration affairs said.
Greece has been repeatedly accused by rights groups and migrants —as well as neighboring Turkey — of illegally sending back asylum seekers before they can file their claims. Athens has denied the accusations.
Last month, Greece’s independent authority for transparency said it found no basis for claims of illegal deportations made by a migrant advocacy group. The country’s ombudsman last year, however, said that national authorities had failed to appropriately respond to “persistent allegations” of illegal deportations made by rights groups and migrants themselves.