Since the spring, Legal Centre Lesvos’ work continued to be instrumental in preventing illegal pushbacks of unregistered asylum seekers newly arrived on Lesvos through the provision of Emergency Legal Assistance. Thanks to coordination with other international actors, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and non profit organisations defending migrants’ rights, including Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Alarm Phone, this work ensured that asylum seekers who have arrived on Lesvos – sometimes for a few days already, without access to food, water or shelter in extreme weather conditions – have eventually had access to international protection procedures in Greece as well as other critical services such as urgent medical support. This work has been increasingly critical given the persistent, violent, and illegal practice of summary pushbacks at sea carried out by the Greek authorities, to expel and abandon at sea those who manage to arrive to the Greek waters and those who reach the Greek islands.
Over the last three months, denunciation of pushbacks in the Aegean Sea and across the Evros River has intensified – with the extensive documentation and wide publication of cases where people seeking protection in Greece have instead been hunted down, captured, and taken out to sea where they were abandoned in motorless life rafts or the damaged dinghies they had travelled on, and in some documented cases thrown directly into the sea in a murderous and calous disregard for their lives. As denunciation efforts increased, NGOs and solidarity actors across Greece are also facing increasing pressure, intimidation and criminalisation for their reporting, denouncing and advocating work against these human rights violations. Indeed, officials of the Greek government, and media platforms continue to tacitly accuse those who advocate against pushbacks of being involved in smuggling networks themselves.
The efforts of organisations reporting on and advocating against those illegal pushbacks, however, have undoubtedly contributed to a shift in public discourse regarding pushbacks during this period: FRONTEX executive director resigned after a long investigation by the European Anti-Fraud Office and media reports revealing how FRONTEX actively covered up pushbacks of the Greek authorities; the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner issued recommendations denouncing pushbacks in different Council of Europe member states, including Greece; the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defender published a press statement after her official visit in Greece expressing her concerns about the escalation of criminalisation of actors involved in the advocacy again pushbacks.
Further information on updates from Lesvos and our work can be found in our latest Newsletter, available for download here, and below.April-June-2022-Quarterly-Report